“An Avenue for Social Aliveness”: an interview with incarcerated artist Darrell Fair

“An avenue for social aliveness”

Interview with Darrell Fair, incarcerated artist

Darrell Fair is an artist incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center. A virtual gallery of Darrell’s work can be found here. Interview by Emily Bruell

EB: How did you start creating art? Do you remember the first piece of art you ever made?

DF: My first work of art was a stylized self / portrait, designed in 2015, during my first P/NAP [Prison + Neighborhood Arts Program] class, portraiture and installation, taught by Sarah Ross. During this time, I.D.O.C. didn’t allow incarcerated citizens to take pictures, so our loved ones didn’t have any recent pictures of us. So, as a form of resistance we sketched enlarged images of our I.D. pictures onto canvases, which we painted with acrylic paint. We used exaggerated colors to highlight and bring attention along with alternating thick and thin lines to add depth and contrast. We then cut out our figures and attached them to wooden backings. Our class project was entitled The Weight of Rage [full online gallery here]

It was exhibited at multiple venues including The Hyde Park Art Center. Now our families are able to see updated pictures of us.

The editor of Poetry Magazine viewed our exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center and selected my portrait for the cover of Poetry Magazine’ s April 2016 issue which was dedicated to social injustice. That experience was my first lesson in the far-reaching transformative power of art as a tool for social and cultural production, and as Sarah Ross would say, as an avenue for social aliveness.

EB: What art have you contributed to Parole Illinois?

DF: My art contributions for parole illinois.org include my animation contribution used in the opening for the paroleillnois.org site. I also authorized unlimited access to my entire digital catalogue of prints and or original work for any and all fundraisers for paroleillinois.org events.

EB: What is something you want people on the outside to know about your art? About you? About our criminal justice system?

DF: Some of the mediums that i’ve used are acrylic paint on paper and canvas and felt. Water colors, charcoal and colored pencils. Animation and comics; acrylic stamps and print. I’ve also co-designed two murals (“Faces of Hope on 16th in Christiana in North Lawndale, and “It’s Time,” a dedication to Dr. Margaret Burroughs in Washington park). I’ve also done extensive writing and poetry, movement and dance.

I want my artwork to bring awareness to the many injustices within the prison industrial complex: Long-term and disproportionate sentencing; the overcrowded and underfunded facilities, the deteriorating infrastructures; the lack of rehabilitative and restorative programs which violate the 2nd mandate of the Illinois Bill Of Rights, Article 1 Section 11, which places the burden of restoring the offender back to useful citizenship upon the state. I want society to know that we’re not defined by our convictions and that we welcome the opportunity to make amends to victims and their families and meaningful contributions to our own families, communities and society.

I would also want people to know that I’m one of the torture survivors from Area 2. I’ve been incarcerated since 1998, almost 23 years. I’m scheduled to receive my evidentiary ruling August 4th, so it’s possible that I could be released soon and finally exonerated. I need the world to know that during these 23 years of incarceration, that I’ve met countless men and women who are just as deserving of their freedom as I am.

I’ve met litigators, policy writers, artists,musicians, critical thinkers, teachers, orators, conflict resolvers, violence preventers, activists, peace makers, etc… A multitude of people who would greatly benefit humanity and society. These people, my people, my community, are part of the future and (the time is now) to bring our future home. It’s Time for Illinois to draft a meaningful parole plan and restore offenders back to useful citizenship.