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Cherrie Zheng / Staff Photographer

The exhibit is displayed on the 8th and 9th floors of Schermerhorn Hall.

Art X Social Justice’s inaugural event, “Stories in Paper,” featured paper-based artwork made by incarcerated people. Through workshops led by art therapist Laura Betancur, the artists constructed pieces in a variety styles, which reflected a range of experiences.

Cherrie Zheng
Several artists wove together long strips of paper, contrasting colors, and patterns in their work. Through this method of weaving, the artists created pieces that resemble textiles, which brought warmth and comfort to the surrounding environment.

Michael Cao
One artist named William used paper in his piece, entitled “African Little Girl, Happy Life” to construct a vibrant portrait of a young girl. Pairing a range of bright colors with a slight smile on the girl’s face, William’s portrait was comforting and brought African culture to the forefront of his piece.

With only paper at their disposal due to prison restrictions on permitted art supplies, many artists contorted paper in inventive ways to create three-dimensional pieces.

Cherrie Zheng
One unnamed artist offered a conceptual piece by twisting colorful, patterned paper into small tubes and fastening them together. His piece resembled a balance, a symbol typically associated with the legal system and justice, which perhaps suggested a rumination by incarcerated people on the extent of justice they experience.

Michael Cao
An artist named José also created a three-dimensional piece entitled “Zócalo de Cuernavaca,” which is the name of a public square in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He paired it with a quote, writing, “I go to my calm place in Zócalo,” under his piece. The work is abstract and fuses together a variety of patterns and structures to recreate José’s “calm place” in Mexico. Despite the geographic distance from this place of comfort and belonging for José, these art workshops seemed to have provided a way to bring that sense of home to him.

With each piece “Stories in Paper” shares, the viewer witnesses a person living a restricted life —even restricted in the use of art supplies—sharing their expansive innermost thoughts and desires. Whether exploring ideas of justice, home, or culture, each of these artists seems to use art as a source of comfort, or a brief trip to their “calm place.”

Staff writer Margaret Tilley can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

Stories in Paper Art X Social Justice Heyman Center Margaret Tilley Cherrie Zheng Michael Cao Incarcerated artists
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