Angela Davis, 1970.
The life and work of Angela Davis has become relatively important to my work. Angela Davis is an American political activist, philosopher, academic and author, whose work revolves around issues of racism, feminism, economic inequality and the US prison system. Davis is also the founder of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization dedicated to the abolition of the prison system.
I was introduced to her work regarding abolition and the prison system in recent months and it has become a major point of reference in both my life and recent art.
"Mass incarceration is not a solution to unemployment, nor is it a solution to the vast array of social problems that are hidden away in a rapidly growing network of prisons and jails. However, the great majority of people have been tricked into believing in the efficacy of imprisonment, even though the historical record clearly demonstrates that prisons do not work." - Angela Davis, "Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex", 1998.
She argues that the US prison system more closely resembles slavery than it does a criminal justice system. According to Davis, “prisons relieve us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and increasingly global capitalism”. They serve as a device of racial segregation, aimed not at solving problems but at depoliticizing on and capitalizing from them. Her work closely follows the end of slavery in the US into the modern era, interrogating our modern ‘judicial’ institutions and their role in continuing, and in some cases further exacerbating, systems of inequality, violence and oppression.
Through her academic work and political activism, she urges people to ask: "What is effective or just about this 'justice' system?" This demand is a similar lens through which I am beginning to think about my own work - purely by value of socio-political efficacy - which can be seen in some elements of Lockdown Diary (in either the Arc or Degree Show sections) and in the most recent work related to the Black Lives Matter protests.
Davis, among other abolitionists, advocates for more 'transformative justice' approaches to solve various social problems, including education and the building of engaged, active communities.
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”