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Prison Art Show at Lincoln's Cottage Critiques U.S. Justice System

This month, Caddell Kivett's exhibit "Prison Reimagined: Presidential Portrait Project," opened at President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington, D.C. The exhibit of 46 pieces of art and writing was curated by the Committee of Incarcerated Writers and Artists, whose members all currently live in prisons, NPR reports. In addition to Justice Arts Coalition, a group that supports imprisoned artists, the exhibit was coordinated by Lincoln's Cottage staff. The exhibit continues through Feb. 19. The art pieces include different takes on portraits of U.S. presidents, among them Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, and put these leaders' records on criminal justice under the microscope. Kivett, 53, is serving an 80-year prison sentence for assault-related charges. He has spent about 14 years incarcerated in North Carolina.


Kivett was inspired by Amanda Gorman, who read her poem "The Hill We Climb" during the inauguration of President Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. It says, in part: "We've learned that quiet isn't always peace, and the norms and notions of what 'just' is isn't always justice. ..." Kivett said he considered: What if there was a way to harness the voices of the incarcerated to critique the justice system and to challenge the idea of what true justice in America could look like? Kivett said he hopes as visitors come to view the exhibit that they leave with a deeper understanding of the direct impacts of mass incarceration and are motivated to take concerns to politicians. "Continuing to just cage people for harms committed in our country is not making us safer and not making us better as a nation," he said. Kivett recommends rerouting money spent on prisons and jails into communities that need it the most rather than continuing to invest in the carceral system.

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