We were lucky enough to have Laura Sanchez as a student in the fall course that built the Rikers component of the States of Incarceration exhibition. She was also part of the team that conceived #SeeRikers (the guerilla campaign is still ongoing!). And, then, she continued the investigation of the consequences of life on the inside with her master’s thesis exhibition, “Missing.”
The strength of all Laura’s work is her thoughtful, deep exploration of the theoretical and ethical issues embedded in representation. But she doesn’t stop there; she then puts those issues in action. For her, that meant continuing the discussion with people from the Fortune Society about the ongoing impact of incarceration in their lives. The conversations are really the foundation of the exhibition but seen through objects and heard through brief remarks. She focused in on the objects that came to mean freedom: food, a refrigerator, a key. And she created an environment to showcase those items in a way that gave them the incandescence that turned common objects into a path back to life. A darkened room, objects in a vitrine, lit in a glowing center. As if an object could warm a cold, dark place, or a crushed soul.
The objects beckon but it is the audio accompaniment – bits from her many conversations – that make the absences haunt you. There are stories of family, some who embrace you when you return, some who don’t. Stories of the power of music to awaken sense, and beauty. And then there are tales of loss after loss after loss. “The world ain’t for everybody,” says one. This is the consequence of our incarceration crisis. This is our world, which perpetuates and enacts, upon body after body after body, a devastation that robs people of their ability to find their place, to understand themselves as here, with the rest of us, maybe unsure and awkward but a part of something beyond themselves. We’re missing so very many people.