Prison Nation

The Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery presents the exhibition Prison Nation.

Most prisons and jails across the United States do not allow prisoners to have access to cameras. At a moment when an estimated 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the US, 3.8 million people are on probation, and 870,000 former prisoners are on parole, how can images tell the story of mass incarceration when the imprisoned don’t have control over their own representation? How can photographs visualize a reality that disproportionately affects people of color, and, for many, remains outside of view? This exhibition, organized by Aperture Foundation, addresses the unique role photography plays in creating a visual record of this national crisis, despite the increasing difficulty of gaining access inside prisons.

Since its early years, photography has been used to create and reenforce typologies of criminality, often singling out specific groups of people. Today, it is essential for photographers to provide urgent counterpoints and move beyond simplistic descriptions of the “criminal” or the imprisoned. Much of the work gathered here—from a recently discovered archive at San Quentin in California to portraits of prisoners participating in a garden program at Rikers Island in New York City or performing a passion play at Louisiana’s Angola prison, a facility located on the site of a former slave plantation—underscores the humanity and individuality of those incarcerated. Some projects explore the prison as an omnipresent feature of the American landscape, often serving as a local economic engine, or delve into the living conditions and social systems of prisons, while others address the difficult process of reentering society after incarceration. One series was produced in prison: Jesse Krimes made 292 image transfers with prison-issued soap while he served a five-year sentence.

Incarceration impacts all of us. Americans, even those who have never been to a prison or had a relative incarcerated, are all implicated in a form of governance that uses prison as a solution to many social, economic, and political problems. Empathy and political awareness are essential to creating systemic change— this exhibition may provoke us to see parts of ourselves in the lives of those on the inside.

The exhibition includes work by the following artists: Lucas Foglia / Bruce Jackson / Emily Kinni / Jesse Krimes / Jack Lueders-Booth / Deborah Luster / Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun / Zora Murff / Nigel Poor / Joseph Rodriguez / Jamel Shabazz / Sable Elyse Smith / Stephen Tourlentes


Public Program / Humanities Forum
Ruth Wilson Gilmore: Making Abolition Geographies
Thursday, April 30, 2020 5:30 p.m.
A reception and book signing will follow the program.
Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery
Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s talk Making Abolition Geographies: Social Justice Organizing for Vulnerable Households, Workers, and Communities explores how visions of abolition guide and connect organizing across a range of social justice struggles. The examples highlight environmental justice, public sector labor unions, farm workers, undocumented households, criminalized youth, and community-based approaches to prevent and resolve gender and interpersonal violence. The vivid stories presented show that abolition is a practical program for urgent change based in the needs, talents, and dreams of vulnerable people.

This event is presented in association with the Dresher Center’s Humanities Forum lecture series.


Admission to the exhibition and related programming/events is free and open to the public.


Plan your visit

Gallery hours:
Monday through Friday: 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Thursday until 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 12 – 5 p.m.
Adjustments to this schedule for holidays and semester breaks can be found online.

UMBC is located approximately 10 minutes south of the Inner Harbor along I-95: Directions and parking information and detailed venue information.


Image: Deborah Luster, Layla “Roach” Roberts (Inquisitor), from the series Passion Play, 2012–13


The presentation of this exhibition is supported by an arts program grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support comes from the Libby Kuhn Endowment Fund, as well as individual contributions.

Start Date: Monday, April 6, 2020
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End Date: Sunday, May 24, 2020
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Department Represented: Exhibition

Venue Name: Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery

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