Unbroken by Bars is a collaborative art and storytelling project that examines issues faced by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls. The first installment (Our Love Is) Unbroken by Bars features three women who gave birth while they were incarcerated. Though each woman has her unique experience, they all endured being shackled to and from doctors and hospital visits, and they had male guards present during these visits, as well as during childbirth. Though many states have passed anti-shackling laws, they are not widely or well enforced. New York State, where the three women in this project are from, has updated its law several times since 2009.
Artist Jess X Snow and I interviewed Carole, Stephanie, and Delaisia over a period of about seven months. We met their children, and Jess captured the mother/child relationships in a series of photographs she then used to illustrate portraits. Quotations from the interviews were added to the illustrations, along with the hashtag #unbrokenbybars to give the portraits context and to prompt viewers to use the hashtag in order to learn more about the women and the project.
In February of 2017 we launched the project as posters in public spaces. Since then posters have been installed in nine states across the country, from Hawaii to Florida to New York! This push for the stories to reach the public continues, and Unbroken by Bars will be is in two gallery spaces this summer. Through public programs to support the artwork, we can deepen the conversation so that our understanding and impact continue. It is impossible to place a value on the stories I have heard since starting this project. What I can state with conviction is that the more we learn about the issues incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls have faced, the more we become compassionate, accepting, forgiving human beings. The system was designed to dehumanize, oppress, and isolate. Sharing our stories counteracts this by creating connection, healing and growth.
In September 2018, in collaboration with artist Shyama Kuver of Heart Over Crown, we will be launching (Our Sisterhood Is) Unbroken by Bars, which is based on an interview between Topeka and Ivy, two women who met and became like family while they were both at the Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury. Learn more about issues that restrict relationships between incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women on the (Our Sister Is) Unbroken by Bars page.
Thank you to Amplifier for offering support for the artwork and posters. We could not have done it without them!
- Katie Fuller, Curator for Unbroken by Bars