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UCR ARTSblock presents the exhibition: Geographies of Detention: From Guantánamo to the Golden Gulag

Dates: June 1–September 7, 2013
Location: California Museum of Photography, UC Riverside ARTSblock

UCR ARTSblock presents Geographies of Detention: From Guantánamo to the Golden Gulag, on view at the California Museum of Photography from June 1 through September 7, 2013, andaccompanied by a program of events. The exhibition is guest curated by Catherine Gudis, Molly McGarry, and graduate students from the UCR Public History Program: Leann Do, Jay Hartzell, Kristen Hayashi, Corinne Knight, Sean Milanovich, Karen Raines, Carolyn Schutten, Megan Suster, Jennifer Thornton, David Wagner, and Jennifer Weed.

Presented on two floors of the California Museum of Photography, Geographies of Detention offers a nuanced investigation into incarceration and its architectures. One portion of the exhibition highlights work by artists Sandow Birk, Alyse Emdur, and Richard Ross, each of whom explores different aspects of imprisonment. Films by Ashley Hunt, Setsu Shigematsu, and the Los Angeles Poverty Department are presented throughout the building. Through August 10, Geographies of Detention also includes the traveling exhibit the “Guantánamo Public Memory Project,” an examination of the over 100-year history of the US naval station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The main gallery of the museum is devoted to the contemporary context and landscape of California’s own “golden gulag.” Prison populations in California have grown 500% in the last decades even as crimerates subside, and prison spending continues to outweigh state funding for public education. A selection of hauntingly evocative paintings by Sandow Birk from his series “Prisonation” (2001) reflects on the growth of California’s prison industrial complex by engaging its geographic context. Taking inspiration from pictorial genres of landscape painting, including those popularized by the Hudson River School in the 19th century, each of Birk’s paintings depicts one of California’s state prisons, from Pelican Bay in Northern California to Centinela State Prison at the US–Mexico border.

WhileBirk’s work shows the prisons from afar, Richard Ross and Alyse Emdur take the viewer inside these structures. In his series of photographs “Architecture of Authority” (2007), Ross explores the built environment of prisons, revealing the spatial logic used to exert power over the bodies incarcerated within. Emdur’s large-scale photographs of prison visiting rooms and collected letters and snapshots (some of which appear in her 2013 book, Prison Landscapes) offer a more intimate vision of inmates posing with their visitors against murals in fantasy landscapes of freedom. Presented together, the works of Birk, Ross, and Emdur meditate on the “carceral state” of California.

The theater company Los Angeles Poverty Department presents a portion of their “History of Incarceration” performance and media installation with a looped film (2010-11, 210 minutes). The film features 184 Californians reading the 184-page 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Plata-Coleman decision on overcrowding in California State Prisons in which the court declared that current conditions amount to “cruel and unusual punishment.” The film will be played continuously on the Jumbotron screens on the facade of the Culver Center.

“Visions of Abolition: From Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life” (2011, 90 minutes), directed by Setsu Shigematsu, UCR Assistant Professor, Media and Cultural Studies, will be screened in the gallery. This documentary about the prisonindustrial complex weaves together voices of women caught in the criminal justice system with leading scholars and activists in the prison abolition movement.

“A Prison in the Field” (2001, 18 minutes) by multimedia artist Ashley Hunt is part of his ongoing “Corrections Documentary Project.” Considering why, where, and how prisons get built in remote rural communities, the film follows grassroots activists who are fighting against the construction of a second prison in Delano, CA, on the grounds that prisons are a form of environmental and economic injustice.

Guantánamo Public Memory Project*
The “Guantánamo Public Memory Project” combines historical and contemporary photography, film, and first-person audio interviews to examine how the naval base has been “closed” and reopened for more than a century leading up to the attacks on September 11, 2001. These new perspectives on Guantánamo’s history as a “legal black hole” provoke discussions about the limits of democracy and the meaning of mass incarceration in a global present and future.

Collaboratively curated by eleven universities (including UCR), the “Guantánamo Public Memory Project” is comprised of a deeply researched traveling exhibit, as well as a website (, blog, and ongoing public conversation. The panel produced by graduate students in UCR’s Public History Program examines Guantánamo as an international symbol of America’s War on Terror and a lightning rod for debates about torture, detention, national security, and human rights.

Visit for the schedule of related programs.

*The “Guantánamo Public Memory Project” will be on view as part of Geographies of Detention through August 10, 2013.


The Guantánamo Public Memory Project seeks to build public awareness of the century-long history of the US naval station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and foster dialogue on the future of this place and the policies it shapes. Coordinated by Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, the Project has developed a traveling exhibit, online story collection, curricula, public dialogues, and more through collaboration and debates with diverse stakeholders. First launched in 2009 by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, the Project is now developed by a growing number of universities, organizations, and individuals according to common principles while engaged in ongoing debate on the possibilities and pitfalls of “remembering” Guantánamo. The project was supported by the participating universities, Arizona State University, Tempe, Brown University, Indiana University-Purdue University, New York University, Rutgers University, University of California, Riverside, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Minnesota, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and University of West Florida. Additional support provided by the Open Society Foundations, Libra Foundation, and the New York Council on theHumanities.


Geographies of Detention: From Guantánamo to the Golden Gulag is organized by California Museum of Photography at UCRARTSblock, and is guest curated by Catherine Gudis, UCR Associate Professor of History and Director of the Public History Program, and Molly McGarry, UCR Associate Professor of History.

This exhibition was made possible in part by the generous support of Dean Stephen Cullenberg, UCR College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and the UCR History Department’s Friends of Public History.


Panel Discussion
Saturday, June 1, 6pm
Culver Center – FREE

Co-curators Catherine Gudis and Molly McGarry introduce a discussion with Geographies of Detention artists Sandow Birk, Alyse Emdur, Kevin Michael Key (of Los Angeles Povery Department), and Setsu Shigematsu. The panel is moderated by Tiffany López, UCR Professor of Theater, Tomás Rivera Chair in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, and Director of CASA (Chicana/o Arts & Social Action). The discussion will be followed by a special viewing of the exhibition in the galleries.

Film, The Road to Guantánamo
Friday and Saturday, June 7 and 8, 7pm
Culver Center – regular $9.99, students $5

Part of the Art-house Cinema film series, this film (dir. Mat Whitecross, Michael Winterbottom, 2006) uses interviews, news footage, and reenactments to tell the story of the Tipton Three, a trio of British Muslims who were held in Guantánamo Bay for three years of relentless interrogations and torture in an effort to solicit confessions of terrorism. In the midst of this abuse, the three struggle to keep their spirits up in the face of grave injustice.

Film, Zero Dark Thirty
Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15, 7pm
Culver Center – regular $9.99, students $5

Part of the Art-house Cinema film series, this film (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 2012) is an unconventional war movie about an unvoncentional war. “Bigelow’s direction is vital, controlled, and enthralling. With Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow and [writer Mark] Boal have produced a powerful, morally complicated work on an urgent subject. It is a film that demands to be seen and argued over.” (Christopher Orr, The Atlantic)


UCR ARTSblock is located at 3824 & 3834 Main Steet, Riverside, CA 92501, and includes three venues: California Museum of Photography, Culver Center of the Arts, and Sweeney Art Gallery, which are open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 pm, plus 6–9pm for First Thursday ArtWalks, which take place on the first Thursday of every month. Admission is $3, which includes entry to all threevenues, and is free during First Thursday ArtWalks (6–9pm). The Culver Center opens 30 minutes prior to film screenings.

Press contact: Joanna Szupinska-Myers,
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