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Hank Willis Thomas
Courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas

Hank Willis Thomas projects inmates’ statements onto US Justice Department

The guerrilla artwork covered the building’s facade with writings by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to highlight the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on US prisoners

Artist Hank Willis Thomas has projected statements made by incarcerated people onto the US Department of Justice building in Washington to highlight the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on prisoners.

The hour-long artwork, in collaboration with anti-incarceration think tank, Incarceration Nations Network (INN), featured an 11-minute loop of statements that covered the facade of the building with essays, poems, letters, stories, and notes written by the incarcerated individuals – with a strong focus on their experiences of COVID-19.

“Mass incarceration is at the heart of everything that is happening right now – both the pandemic and the protests,” said Baz Dreisinger, INN founder and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in the statement.

The intervention is part of an ongoing series, The Writing on the Wall, conceived by Thomas and Dreisinger in 2013, which stages guerilla projections onto government buildings, using essays, poems, letters, notes, and stories by prisoners that Dreisinger collected over five decades.

The Writing on the Wall has always been a kind of interruption, interjecting the voices of people behind bars around the world in public spaces so people are compelled to read them,” explained Dreisinger. “Now more than ever we need to make this dramatic interruption so people do not forget: Let’s heed these voices and center them in the heart of cities, right in the middle of a pandemic and a mass movement.”

Back in March, Thomas launched artist-activist movement, For Freedoms, with artist Eric Gottesman, as a way to recognise the power of creativity to transform the way we see and think about the world. We spoke to the pair ahead of the first For Freedoms Congress (FFCon), an anti-partisan platform promoting civic engagement, civil discourse, and action through art for a series of artist-led programs, workshops, and Town Hall programmes in Los Angeles – read it here