The Writing on the Wall, a collaboration between artist Hank Willis Thomas and scholar and activist Dr. Baz Dreisinger, is an installation covering the walls, ceilings, and floors of the Davenport Jail with writing by individuals in prisons around the world. The writings were gathered by Dr. Dreisinger during her years teaching in United States and international prisons. As a presentation of the crisis of global criminal legal systems, these letters visually convey the narratives, thoughts, and emotions of the people behind bars.
The Davenport Jail will be open during the Santa Cruz MAH’s CommonGround festival.
Friday September 16—Sunday September 18, 2022 from 12pm-3pm
Friday September 23—Sunday September 25, 2022 from 12pm-3pm
Every Saturday from 12pm-3pm October 1st, 2022—June 10, 2023 (excluding holidays)
The Davenport Jail is a two-room county jailhouse built in 1914 in Davenport, California. Now a museum, administered by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, the Davenport Jail provides regional context for the larger tragedy of incarceration evocatively layered onto its walls.
The history of the tiny jail contains the economic and racialized workings of the massive, world-wide carceral structure. The jail was built with the opening of the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company to address concerns about its newly arrived labor force. The ties between the jail and the company were overt: a company employee served as the jail’s longtime custodian and other employees were incarcerated there. In 1918, for example, a worker at the cement plant from Mexico was imprisoned when he could not produce the right draft classification card.
For The Writing on the Wall, the letters and other writings from people in prisons all over the world raise questions about the global implications of the history of labor, social relations, and land usage contained within the small county jail.
The Writing on the Wall is organized by Rachel Nelson and Gina Dent in partnership with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History as part of Visualizing Abolition, a public scholarship initiative at UC Santa Cruz designed to shift the social attachment to prisons through art and education. Funding for Visualizing Abolition is provided by the Mellon Foundation.
The project is an initiative of the Incarceration Nations Network and has previously been exhibited in Detroit, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia, and New York City, including as part of the High Line Network Joint Art Initiative.
Learn more about the Davenport Jail.
Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture.
Dr. Baz Dreisinger is the founder of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the founder and executive director of the Incarceration Nations Network. Founded in 2018, the Incarceration Nations Network is a global network that fosters and elevates innovative justice work