Nicole R. Fleetwood is a critic, curator, and professor of American Studies and Art History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She is the author of On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination and Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness. Her forthcoming book, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration will be released by Harvard University Press in February 2020. She is co-editor of Aperture magazine’s “Prison Nation,” a special issue focusing on photography’s role in documenting mass incarceration. (August 2019)
Incarceration has reshaped my family and my hometown in southwest Ohio. I began what would become the book and exhibition Marking Time by displaying photos of incarcerated relatives around my apartment, partly as an attempt to work through my own discomfort with the pictures of them in prison, and to bring their presence into my daily life. Marking Time grew out of nine years of researching and archiving, and draws on multiple sources: interviews, site visits, personal collections, institutional archives, family narratives, and the growing scholarship in critical prison studies, black cultural theory, and visual culture.
While black artists and other artists of color have had more representation in international biennials and museum shows in recent years, the reception of their art is still often framed by a narrow and rarified cultural perspective. White male critics have had and continue to have the biggest platforms for interpreting art and culture. That Edmonds’s photographs have repeatedly illustrated articles in recent debates suggests that, for critics and institutions, his art symbolizes the visibility of contemporary black arts—what Antwaun Sargent calls a contemporary renaissance—and the history of institutional exclusion of black artists.