Study Guides

The study guides provided here, created for the Barring Freedom exhibition, engage with the roles of the arts in the struggle for prison abolition. These study guides organize artworks from the exhibition into five themes of engagement as related to the issues of prisons and abolition.


Using the Study Guides

These study guides organize artworks into five themes of engagement with the issues of prisons and abolition: a brief introduction to the problem and the role of art in this struggle, the histories that structure our current system of incarceration and policing, the ways the carceral state shapes a vision of the world, how to bridge the distance between inside and outside the prison, and imagining possibilities for abolitionist futures.

We intend for these resources to act as pathways through the different artworks and artist interviews. They are available to anyone interested in thinking critically about prisons and policing. We believe that art—and the forms of poetic, nonlinear thinking that it encourages—can open the issues in novel ways, offering compelling routes into challenging discussion topics.

Each study guide contains a selection of artworks and short clips from the artist interviews that exemplify the theme, as well as quotes from selected key readings and links to other relevant artworks from the exhibition. There are questions throughout to encourage reflection, and at the bottom of the guides are suggested further readings and resources.

The index of keywords can be used to navigate among the artworks independent of the study guides, showing other connections and providing different modes of entry from the four highlighted themes.

For Students

Each study guide introduces you to a range of artists and artworks as well as articles and books that delve more deeply into the themes discussed. The study guides are structured around broad questions and include places for you to pause and reflect. We hope you will find an artist or artwork that intrigues you and that you follow your curiosity into the wealth of materials available.

For Instructors

The study guides can be used by instructors across disciplines who are interested in integrating visual art into their teaching. Study guide text and videos can be assigned as asynchronous material along with one or more of the cited readings, while the questions posed throughout the guides can be used for live discussions. For instructors at UC Santa Cruz who would like further assistance integrating these materials into your course, please contact If you develop a teaching activity based on these materials, please let us know; we would love to hear how these contribute to teaching and learning on campus.