Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Regular price $ 39.95

by Nicole R. Fleetwood

Harvard University Press

4/28/2020, hardcover

SKU: 9780674919228


A powerful document of the inner lives and creative visions of men and women rendered invisible by America's prison system.

More than two million people are currently behind bars in the United States. Incarceration not only separates the imprisoned from their families and communities; it also exposes them to shocking levels of deprivation and abuse and subjects them to the arbitrary cruelties of the criminal justice system. Yet, as Nicole Fleetwood reveals, America's prisons are filled with art. Despite the isolation and degradation they experience, the incarcerated are driven to assert their humanity in the face of a system that dehumanizes them.

Based on interviews with currently and formerly incarcerated artists, prison visits, and the author's own family experiences with the penal system, Marking Time shows how the imprisoned turn ordinary objects into elaborate works of art. Working with meager supplies and in the harshest conditions--including solitary confinement--these artists find ways to resist the brutality and depravity that prisons engender. The impact of their art, Fleetwood observes, can be felt far beyond prison walls. Their bold works, many of which are being published for the first time in this volume, have opened new possibilities in American art.

As the movement to transform the country's criminal justice system grows, art provides the imprisoned with a political voice. Their works testify to the economic and racial injustices that underpin American punishment and offer a new vision of freedom for the twenty-first century.


An urgently political text...Fleetwood's training as an art historian is evident, as her analysis follows a narrative arc that moves across artistic mediums and within the physical architecture of prison itself... Marking Time, however, never becomes too wrapped up in its own theory to forget that the prison industrial complex is a system of people, many of whom are the most vulnerable among us...Moves fluidly between this art historical survey and a sharp attention to the social apparatuses that have enabled the very foundation of the prison state.--Jessica Lynne, The Nation

It's so eloquently written and is the first book to explore art practices in proximity to the carceral state, representing more than a decade of research by Nicole and including the work of more than 70 artists.--Kate Fowle, Artnet News

About the Author:

Nicole R. Fleetwood is Professor of American Studies and Art History at Rutgers University. Her work on art and mass incarceration has been featured at the Aperture Foundation and the Zimmerli Museum of Art, and her exhibitions have been praised by the New York Times, The Nation, the Village Voice, and the New Yorker. She is the author of On Racial Icons and the prizewinning Troubling Vision.