At the conclusion of the creation of the project, we asked participants to reflect on what the process was like for them. Here are excerpts from their responses.
The collaborative process with Ms. Williams was exciting. We started with a little get-to-know-you email. THen she suggested I do “I am from…” a poem template that gave her more insight on my daily visualization. I then explained what freedom would look like to me. I did so without thinking, as I felt it’d be the clearest picture. She made it a smooth process for me, especially since I’m not an artist or overly creative. I wanted to make clear that freedom looks like change, emotionally, physically, and socially.
From this process, I learned that there are some very interesting tools one can use to convey their vision to others. I also picked up on the possibility that everyone has a creative side that can help them clearly allow others into their “personal space.” I was surprised that I didn’t give Ms. Williams a difficult crossed info or mixed up visions.
My correspondence with Ms. Williams netted some interesting thoughts and views on artists and how seriously they plan out their work, but I wouldn’t share what she said to me without her permission.
I’d first like to answer the question that is the title of the exhibit: “We are free the moment we accept full responsibility for every choice we’ve made and every outcome or consequence we’ve lived through. We are free when we put in the effort to be honest, compassionate, and of service to those (or just ONE) who need our help. We are free when we breathe.” As for what freedom means to me… Freedom means I have an opportunity and an obligation to DO BETTER and BE BETTER. “BETTER” is thinking with forward/long reaching goals to reach out to people who are walking in the shoes I’ve discarded and lay an informational foundation to get them thinking differently about living, friendship, fun, love, and a future.
If you do a similar project in the future, the only thing you could do differently that’d enhance the outcome would be to ask more in-depth questions into participants’ core issues/background. Why? Because often the broader questions provoke superficial answers, and that doesn’t pull in potential supporters. It wasn’t that you didn’t provide support and/or information that was beneficial. It was a totally new project that opened me up to sharing myself without any expectations, and that was uplifting. The support thereafter was a blessing! My hope is that the process looks like newness, making a difference on a major level and looks like a project that goes from grassroots to national exposure.
Describe the collaboration process that you and your partner developed. What was the hardest to convey to your collaborator? What was particularly important to you to make sure was included?
I learned a lot from the collaboration process. I had hoped our collaboration would be more intimate – but hadn’t considered the limited communication opportunities. Things that I do every day with other collaborators like sending pictures by text or getting an immediate response was a learning curve. While I believe I am a quick adapter, I found that I was challenged by small adaptations which gave me something to consider and made my communication less frequent.
I believe the hardest thing to convey was my initial idea of wanting to historicize her story. It made me step back and look at my goals. Are my goals to truly work with someone or impose my ideas around the work I do? For me what was important as I came to learn more about the process was truthfully engaging her story. I would often read it over and over again and highlight the key themes.
It was also important for me to use an image of her that conveyed who I met in the email. That took a little time to track down but was worth it in the end.
What did you learn from this process? What were you surprised by?
I learned more about communication and the prison system. But most importantly I learned how our value and cultural systems as African American women do not get left at the gate when entering a prison. We carry who we are with us.
What does freedom mean to you?
Freedom to me is autonomy. It is the ability to make decisions for oneself and to direct how one lives and interacts with others in this world. It is to be acknowledged as “fully human” – which for African American women in the United States has been both a legal, social and political struggle against dehumanization processes.
Terri Harper is a writer, a member of the LifeLines project, the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration, and the PA prison society, and is the current president of the Muncy Inmates Organization. She loves to cook, write, read, and laugh. As the seasons continue to change in her life and the lives around her, she is actively doing all she can to change her actions and their outcomes, so the world around her and at large can be better in some way. Originally from Philadelphia, she’s been serving a Death By Incarceration sentence for the last 27 years.
Noelle Lorraine Williams is a conceptual artist living and working in Newark, NJ. She strives to build engaged communities and utilize public dialogue, relying on sculpture, multimedia practices, events and performance. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social and Historical Inquiry from The New School for Social Research, and is currently a graduate student at Rutgers University-Newark studying American Studies with a focus on Public Humanities. She has Cultural Center, Skylight Gallery, and Newark Arts Council and Victory Hall, among others. She has also served as curator and coordinator on various projects, including her ongoing conceptual project “The Black Women’s Fairy Tale Museum.” She also continues to engage her multidisciplinary art practice as a path to social awareness and spiritual liberation. Learn more at http://www.noellelorrainewilliams.com/.