Walking through the rooms of the Newcomb Art Museum’s newest exhibit, you’re surrounded by harrowing statistics, emotional stories, and portraits holding the resilient gazes of formerly incarcerated women. Despite the painful truth shown, the natural light and inspiring artworks leave you with a sense of hope.

The (Per)Sister: Incarcerated Women in Louisiana exhibit at the Newcomb Art Museum transforms your conceptions of what you think an art exhibit can be. The multidimensional art experience that curators Monica Ramirez-Montagut and Laura Blereauhave created sits right at the intersection of advocacy and art.

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The Newcomb Art Museum has elected to use its platform to give a voice to the experiences of the excessively large number of incarcerated women in Louisiana. In their introductory panel, they state the facts which emphasize why their work is so important. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the incarceration rate for women nationwide has increased by 834% in the last 40 years, and the rate in Louisiana is even higher than the national average. The majority of these arrests are for nonviolent crimes. 80% of these women are mothers. The majority of incarcerated women were also victims of violence.

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While these statistics are shocking, the exhibit helps to not only bring these issues to light but to bring to life the real women behind the statistics. The exhibit aims to bring awareness to these women’s situations before, during, and after incarceration. Museum director Monica Ramirez-Montag said that, “The objective of this art exhibition is to informally educate our students and museum visitors on the issues that have made our state infamous and address the tremendous lack of awareness and basic knowledge on the human experience of the justice system.”

The exhibit is the result of true collaboration and community outreach. It is comprised of pieces of art that that were inspired by the stories of thirty formerly incarcerated women. Museum staff members partnered with formerly incarcerated women Doflinette Martin and Syrita Steib-Martin to gain their trust and find out what the women wanted to see come of this exhibit and how they wanted to be represented. A group of formerly incarcerated women, dubbed “PerSisters,” collaborated with artists to create a piece that represented their story. The results are beautiful and raw.  

The exposition incorporates works of all different artistic mediums including sound. Coupled with the artwork are video interviews, portraits of the women, informative wall panels about incarceration, and a timeline that maps legislation dates and defining dates of women’s incarceration. In addition to the standing exhibit, there are also events including performances, lectures, tours, and film screenings.

The (Per)Sister: Incarcerated Women in Louisiana exhibit will inspire you to engage with the works, start conversations, and learn how you can be an advocate. The exhibit is on display until July 6th, so don’t miss out.

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