The New Social Environment#105

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration


1 p.m. Eastern / 10 a.m. Pacific

Artists, Gil Batle and Ray Materson will discuss their background and work with writer and curator, Nicole R. Fleetwood and gallerist, Frank Maresca. The conversation will be led by Rail Editor-at-Large, Choghakate Kazarian. We’ll conclude with a poetry reading from Raphael Rubinstein.

In this talk

Gil Batle

Gile Batle
Gile Batle, center
Gil Batle was born and raised in San Francisco to Filipino parents, was in and out of five different California prisons over 20 years for fraud and forgery, and is now living on a small island in the Philippines. Batle’s self-taught drawing ability evolved behind bars into sophisticated and clandestine tattooing skills that protected him from murderous gang violence in prisons such as San Quentin, Chuckawalla, and Jamestown— the “Gladiator School,” as it’s known to the unfortunate cognoscenti. Where Bloods, Crips, and Aryan Brotherhood gang-bangers in racially segregated cell-blocks rule with intimidation and threat, Batle’s facility for drawing was considered magic by the murderers, drug dealers, and armed robbers whose stories he now recounts in minutely carved detail on fragile ostrich eggshells, each with an architecture of pictorial panels supported and separated by a fine lattice of chain-link fencing, razor-wire, or carved hand-cuffs. The violent men he knew, the sad mistakes that sometimes led to the incarceration of regular guys, the terrifying events he witnessed, and the bonds formed under the worst conditions all appear with precise detail on pristine eggshells, nature’s most perfect creation and the manifestation of life and birth.

Ray Materson

Ray Materson

Raymond Materson is a self-taught artist known for miniature pictures that he sews from threads of unraveled socks. He came upon this approach to making art while serving a period of 7 years in prison. Faced with seemingly endless time, he remembered his childhood and how he watched his Grandmother sewing peacefully for hours. His initial sewing efforts required colored threads that he got from pulling apart his socks. He fashioned a round plastic stretcher by cutting off the top ring of a plastic jar with a toenail clipper and stretched cotton fabric from boxer shorts or handkerchiefs to sew on. He began by sewing sports patches for himself and other inmates. He has continued creating art since his release from prison over 25 years ago.

Materson has lectured extensively, worked as a drug abuse counselor, and has had numerous gallery shows as well as being exhibited in the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Hudson River Museum, Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum, The American Folk Art Museum, and most recently at Christie’s in New York. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and numerous other publications and news shows. Materson’s remarkable life from drug addiction to prison and the discovery of his artistic talents was published in 2002 in Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending. He was the first artist to receive the Innovators Combating Substance Abuse Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Nicole R. Fleetwood

Nicole R. Fleetwood
Nicole R. Fleetwood is a writer, curator, and professor of American Studies and Art History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Professor Fleetwood’s books are Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Harvard University Press, 2020), On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination (Rutgers University Press, 2015), and Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness (University of Chicago Press, 2011). She is co-editor of Aperture magazine’s “Prison Nation,” a special issue focusing on photography’s role in documenting mass incarceration, as well as co-curator of Aperture’s touring “Prison Nation” exhibition. She has co-curated exhibitions and programs on art and mass incarceration at the Andrew Freedman Home, Aperture Foundation, Cleveland Public Library, Mural Arts Philadelphia, and Zimmerli Art Museum. Her work has been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, NYPL’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, ACLS, Whiting Foundation, Denniston Hill Residency, Schomburg Center for Scholars-in-Residence, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the NEH.

Frank Maresca

An image of Frank Maresca.
Frank Maresca is an American art dealer and co-founder of Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York City. A long-term advocate of Self-Taught, Folk, and Outsider Art, he has showcased the work of artists creating on the margins of the art-historical mainstream for over 35 years. Through many gallery exhibits, museum collaborations, key publications, and philanthropic work, Maresca has championed the crossover of Vernacular Art into the Contemporary and Modern arenas.

Choghakate Kazarian

A portrait of Choghakate Kazarian
Portrait of Choghakate Kazarian by Phong H. Bui
Choghakate Kazarian is a French, Armenian-born curator and art historian interested in post-war and outsider art. She has been curator at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris from 2011 to 2018 and has curated several exhibitions on artists such as Henry Darger, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Karel Appel. She has edited several exhibition catalogues and published on artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Louis Michel Eilshemius, Stéphane Mandelbaum and those mentioned above. She has a MA in art history from Ecole du Louvre and a MA in philosophy at La Sorbonne. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. at the Courtauld Institute of Art with a dissertation on the American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder. She is Editor-at-large at the Brooklyn Rail.

The Rail has a tradition of ending our conversations with a poetry reading, and we’re fortunate to have Raphael Rubinstein reading.

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein, portrait drawing by Phong Bui
Portrait by Phong H. Bui
Raphael Rubinstein is a New York-based poet, art critic, and professor whose numerous books include “The Miraculous” and “A Geniza.” He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès.

❤️ 🌈 We'd like to thank the The Terra Foundation for American Art for making these daily conversations possible, and for their support of our growing archive.