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Sarahfest Pop-Up Art Show: See Us Differently

Arts and Culture: In partnership with Common Good Atlanta (CGA) and Emory University's Stuart A. Rose Library.

5:00 PM - 7:00 PM Sep. 29, 2021
Powerhouse Community Arts Center
Open to the public

If you’re like many of us and could use a little dose of faith in our common humanity these days, you’ll have your chance on September 29 from 5-7 pm when Common Good Atlanta (CGA) alumni bring their special pop-up exhibit See Us Differently to the Powerhouse in Oxford, MS. This event is hosted by the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies in partnership with Emory University’s Rose Library, the Creative Writing program at the University of  Mississippi and Oxford’s Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. CGA is a nonprofit that takes the humanities in the prison system by offering college courses to students who are currently and formerly incarcerated. It is also part of Sarahfest, the Isom Center’s annual arts and music festival that highlights marginalized artists. 

Associate Director of the Isom Center, Dr. Theresa Starkey sees the event as an important opportunity for community building and is excited about bringing the archived works of these talented artists to the Powerhouse for our LOU community to see and experience. 

“The art work and books made by these former CGA students reflects a DIY spirit that we celebrate,” says Starkey. “The event is a chance to bring the archives into a community arts space like the Powerhouse, it enables the Center to bridge communities, and to create new spaces for learning and conversation.”

When Starkey reached out to see if Prof. Matt Bondurant, associate professor and director of the UM Creative Writing Concentration Program wanted to help bring “See Us Differently” to Oxford, said “Of course I enthusiastically agreed, as this is the sort of literary/creative/community engagement we (faculty and students) are interested in. I think that the art and writing created by these artists tells a story that needs to be heard. The politics of incarceration are complex and the history of imprisoned peoples in Mississippi is a particularly dark path.  These brave artists are trying to break through a kind of veil of silence and make their voices heard.  If we have any faith in a shared human universal, such as the belief in basic human dignity, then we owe our attention to these matters.”

Bondurant continued, “I think a lot of folks in our community would benefit from this experience, especially our UM students.  But I also believe that the talent and will of these artists stretches beyond their incarcerated past and I think attendees will find much to appreciate, outside of or in addition to the conversation we need to have about the troubled state of justice in America.”

See Us Differently has been an ongoing exhibit since 2013 and is part of a larger archive, some of which can now be seen at Emory University’s Rose Manuscript and Rarebook Library. As of this year, in partnership with the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, CGA launched a digital journal, Hourglass: A Creative Journal of Human Experience, where students can now showcase their work:

The name of the exhibit came from an original piece of artwork gifted to Sarah Higginbotham, current Executive Director of CGA, from one of her incarcerated students, thanking her for more than just her work as an educator. The note, which was penned on fabric from a torn pillowcase said, “We appreciate you so much for not buying into the usual stereotype that we are not worth educating. We thank you for realizing that we were human beings before we came to prison. Through your efforts the world will now see us differently.” 

Higginbotham laid the foundation for CGA in 2008 when she first began teaching in the prison system after writing to and being rejected by thirteen prisons where she volunteered to teach for free. On her fourteenth try, Phillips State Prison became the first prison to let her teach.

In 2010, Bill Taft joined Higginbotham as the co-founder of CGA. Taft now serves as the Academic Director and he, along with Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement and CGA alumnus Patrick Rodriguez, will be in Oxford for the exhibit.

Some of the featured books in the exhibit where born from Taft’s bookmaking assignment, such as Noe Martinez’s Rise of the Morlocks, a book of literary analysis, and The Threads That Bind Us,  a collection of artifact essays and autoethnographies, along with Micheal Foster’s The Struggle of Writing, which is a collection of literacy narratives for which Foster also designed the cover. Other pieces, such as Foster’s graphic narratives based on readings of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shelley’s Frankenstein assigned in Higginbotham’s literature class.


Other works exhibited will include an hourglass time machine collaboratively made by students at Phillips State Prison and a new painting that CGA alumnus Patrick Rodriguez produced in collaboration with other CGA alumni.The exhibit begins at 5pm; the program will begin at 5:30 with a pre-recording conversations with CGA alumni  Noe Martinez, Janine Solursh, and Katrina Butler, who were unable to attend the show. Afterward, there will be a roundtable discussion with Taft, Rodriguez, Bondurant, and others from UM’s Creative Writing Program. 

Each piece, regardless of medium used, exemplifies different ways of engaging with a text. The bookmaking assignment was born when Taft was trying to get his students to better understand the importance of writing as a process. After having students study “the history of the book and ways that different cultures used available resources to create a writing surface” Taft says that he “challenged the men to make their own books using discarded materials” and that “[o]nce the men knew they were producing an object, their relationship to their essays deepened. Significantly...Each man in the group took on a different aspect of production. Visual artists created drawings. Others fabricated covers.  Editors chided contributors for failing to turn in revisions on time.  A diverse group of Christian, Muslim, Black, White, Asian, Anglo, and Hispanic men of various ages--some have been locked up longer than  the others have been alive--came together to participate in an act of DIY publishing.  The finished books exceeded all expectations.” 

The pop-up exhibit is free and open to the public; masks are required.

For assistance related to a disability, contact Kevin Cozart: | 662.915.5916

Event posted by:

Sponsored by: UM's Creative Writing Program, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement,