exhibit : CROSSING THE SKYLINE (UIUC)
Location University of Illinois Main Library, Champaign IL
Design & Fabrication Aneesha Dharwadker
Collaborators University of Illinois Library, Education Justice Project,
Date January-February 2020
Relationships between incarceration, literacy, and writing have evolved over time and across the globe. Two genres are highlighted in this exhibit: texts written by luminaries in prison, and those banned recently from American prisons. The texts here have been curated in collaboration with the University Library (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign); the Education Justice Project (Champaign, IL); and the Human Rights Defense Center (Seattle, WA).
The EJP recently experienced a substantial censoring of its teaching materials from the Danville Correctional Center in Danville, IL. In November 2018, despite EJP following standard procedures for course material approval, numerous texts including Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Souls of Black Folk were disallowed from Spring 2019 syllabi. Two months later, other materials that had already received prior approval were confiscated by prison staff before they could be distributed to students.
HRDC was founded by Paul Wright, who was incarcerated for nearly two decades in the state of Washington. There, he co-founded Prison Legal News, a magazine focused on the abuses of the prison system and empowerment for prisoners. PLN has faced innumerable censorship attempts, including bans on factual articles with discussions of sexual assault by guards or hunger strikes in other prisons. HRDC books and magazines, like those with guidelines for managing diabetes in prison, have also been censored under blanket bans prohibiting most or all outside reading materials.
Criminal justice systems have historically suppressed ideas and writing both entering and leaving prisons. Through architectural design and textual curation, "Crossing the Skyline" links knowledge and power to the physical spaces in which they play out, arguing that more thoughtful, humane architectures can positively impact rehabilitation.
This exhibit was supported by the University of Illinois Library and the Illinois School of Architecture. Special thanks to Social Sciences Research Librarian Jessica Hagman for collaborating on the curation and installation of the exhibit.