MoAD, Empowerment Avenue and Flyaway Productions present
A Conversation | Curating from the Inside: Women Exposing Prison through Art and Poetry
This conversation celebrates the launch of the digital exhibition The Only Door I Can Open: Women Exposing Prison through Art and Poetry on MoAD's website. It explores the challenges faced by women at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla where both the co-curators and all of the artists for this exhibition reside, while uplifting the empowerment that telling their own stories can bring. Ultimately, the partnership between MoAD, Empowerment Avenue and Flyaway Productions seeks to bring light to the conditions of incarcerated women, to humanize and connect them with those on the outside, and to insist on radical prison systems change that especially impact BIPOC women.
Joining in conversation are Robin Levi, co-editor of Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives From Women's Prisons; Rahsaan Thomas, formerly incarcerated at San Quentin, the founder and executive director of Empowerment Avenue and a producer on the award-winning podcast EarHustle; Rachel Nelson, director and chief curator of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz and co-director of Visualizing Abolition, an arts-based public scholarship initiative on prisons, art, and the movement for abolition; and Laura Elaine Ellis, a dancer and dance educator who has been an essential part of Flyaway Production's Decarceration Trilogy.
The conversation will be presented in person at MoAD and will be live-streamed on our YouTube channel.
This program is presented in conjunction with The Only Door I Can Open: Women Exposing Prison through Art and Poetry, an exhibition of visual art and poetry, curated by Tomiekia Johnson and Chantell-Jeannette Black from within the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla. Created in partnership withFlyaway Productions and Empowerment Avenue. The exhibition is one facet of Flyaway’s project If I Give You My Sorrowswhich explores women’s complex relationships to their beds.
The digital exhibition will be on view on MoAD's website September 27, 2023 - March 3, 2024.
Robin S. Levi is a women’s human rights consultant who writes and speaks on women’s human rights in the United States. In addition, Robin is currently an independent college counselor. From 2012-19, she was College Outreach Manager at Students Rising Above, which supports low-income, first generation students in applying to and then successfully graduating from college. Until April 2012, Robin was the founding Human Rights Director at Justice Now, which partners with people inside women’s prisons to build a safe, compassionate world without prisons. Robin is also the co-editor of Inside this Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons. A 1993 graduate of Stanford Law School, Robin has written and spoken extensively on women's human rights here and abroad including the Women’s Institute for Leadership for Human Rights, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.
Rahsaan Thomas is a writer, director, podcaster, producer, consultant, social justice advocate and the Executive Director of Empowerment Avenue, a program he created while incarcerated to meet the pre-entry needs of incarcerated writers and artist, helping them to get their voices in mainstream spaces for prevailing wages. As a freelance writer, he has bylines in Business Insider, The Appeal, Boston Globe and The Marshall Project. He is most known for co-hosting and co-producing the podcast, Ear Hustle, as well as appearances in United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell, and the documentary What These Walls Won’t Hold. Initiate Justice credits Rahsaan with sparking the campaign that led to the successful restoration of voting rights for people on parole in California. Friendly Signs, a short documentary he directed and produced while in prison premiered at the San Francisco DocFest.
Dr. Rachel Nelson is director and chief curator of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz and co-director of Visualizing Abolition, an arts-based public scholarship initiative on prisons, art, and the movement for abolition. She has curated and organized exhibitions with artists including Carlos Motta; Forensic Architecture, Sadie Barnette, Jackie Sumell, Maria Gaspar, Carolina Caycedo and David de Roza, among others. Nelson also writes and publishes extensively on contemporary art and geopolitics, including exhibition catalogue essays, journal articles, and reviews in Journal of Curatorial Studies, Public History Weekly, Brooklyn Rail, NKA, Third Text, Savvy, and African Arts. She teaches in the History of Art and Visual Culture department at UC Santa Cruz.
Laura Elaine Ellis maintains a non-stop career of performing, choreographing, and producing in the Bay Area. She currently performs and tours with two award-winning companies, Dimensions Dance Theatre and Flyaway Productions. Her first project with Jo Kreiter’s Fly Away Productions was in 2014. Ellis has been awarded an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Outstanding Individual Performance and numerous funding awards for her own choreographic and producing projects. She is co-founder and Executive Director of the African & African American Performing Arts Coalition, co-presenters of the Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now. Ellis is a dance educator serving on faculty for the Theater and Dance departments at the Athenian School and CSU East Bay. She also serves as a board member for Robert Moses' Kin, and Oaktown Jazz Workshops.