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Talking Back: Artists of the Columbia Collective

Curated by Sofia Thieu
Presented by the Juvenile Justice Arts and Media Network

Saturdays and Sundays, 11a to 5p, September 3 to 25
Foreland, 111 Water Street, Catskill, NY
Opening reception: Saturday September 3, 2022, 5 to 7pm


Shandaken Projects is pleased to support the Juvenile Justice Arts and Media Network in presenting Talking Back: Artists of the Columbia Collective, a group exhibition of artworks by incarcerated teens who channel creativity as a form of agency, humor as insurgence, and joy as resistance. Curated by Sofia Thieu, Talking Back features new artworks made inside the juvenile justice system and exhibited at Foreland, Catskill, NY. Taking its title from bell hooks’ 1989 novel Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, the exhibition explores defiant speech and the gallery space as platforms to “talk back” against a carceral system that silences these artists’ voices.

The Columbia Collective emerged in 2019 from arts programming created by non-incarcerated artist Maggie Hazen within the New York Department of Corrections’ Columbia Secure Center for Girls. The Collective is comprised of three female and trans multimedia artists: Jay, Marshmallow, and Juste-A. Each has assumed a pen name to subvert a legal requirement of confidentiality, and uses a dynamic artistic practice to navigate the circumstances of their incarceration.

The artworks on display—ranging in personal style as well as media including paper mâché, wood panel, collage, and works on paper—project the artists’ individual inner worlds, physical environments, and living conditions into free space. Talking Back also features a new, major video installation by Hazen. Original research and accompanying texts for the exhibition frame the Columbia Collective within a centuries-old history of New York’s exploitive juvenile justice system, while interrogating the biopolitical construction of the “juvenile offender" as a fear-mongering instrument of mass criminalization.

The artists were moved from the Columbia Secure Center for Girls in 2020, when it was closed by the State, and have been incarcerated at the Brookwood Secure Center for Youth since that time. Both are maximum security facilities. Despite the advocacy and care of current facility staff, each artist—having spent formative, early years in various youth facilities, detention centers, and difficult home situations—lives with a deep sense that no one is listening. Thus, the Columbia Collective produces new work in the hopes that someone will hear.

Shandaken Projects recently offered members of the Columbia Collective an onsite workshop in Risography, exploring the mechanics, strengths, and capacities of the medium. During the workshop, artists created original works on paper that were taken from Brookwood back to Shandaken's headquarters to be made into Risograph prints in an unlimited edition. They are available as free takeaways at the exhibition.

Talking Back endeavors to center carceral aesthetics and art made in prisons as crucial to contemporary culture, and its artists’ commentary as essential to understanding the American carcero-police state. The juvenile justice system and the cycles of harm that it perpetuates are commonplace today; punishment and isolation as a means to address harm are distressingly normalized. Juvenile detention and its moral abdications do not shock us. Yet, juxtaposing cultural and carceral space—considering the gallery together with the prison facility—creates a disruption of our distance from carcerality while highlighting the urgency of abolition. Listening for love, humor, resurgence and revolt, how do these artists help us imagine an alternative togetherness and decarcerated future?

For more information on The Columbia Collective, visit thecolumbiacollective.com.

The Juvenile Justice Arts & Media Network (JJAMN) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that acts as a financial conduit for artists in the Columbia Collective. Donations to JJAMN are held until incarcerated artists are released, and then disbursed to them directly and in full. Us the button below to support artists in the Columbia Collective.