How do you describe your culture, your nation? Would you describe it differently to someone overseas? Would you describe it differently to someone in prison overseas? What if that prisoner overseas asked you not to use words but to use images in your response? These are not hypothetical questions, at least not for the men at Columbia River Correctional Institution (CRCI) in Portland, Oregon. Nor for their collaborators scattered across the globe who are involved with Answers Without Words.
Answers Without Words is a collaborative photography project by artists Anke Schüttler, Roshani Thakore, and the Free Mind Collective (a group of currently and formerly incarcerated artists) based at CRCI that engages photographers and prisoners in a visual exchange.
Men in the Free Mind Collective have devised questionnaires for photographers in specific countries (see examples below). Participating photographers are requested to answered with images instead of text: Answers without words.
You are invited to join in! Answers Without Words is currently looking for artists and photographers in Germany, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Poland, Israel and North Korea particularly, but are interested in collaborators anywhere in the world. (See details below.)
Answers Without Words functions, in some ways, as a protracted, connected non-digital version of Google searching.
“The internet is a research tool we usually take for granted in our daily lives,” explain Schüttler and Thakore. “That access is lost in incarceration; prisoners are restricted in terms of what they can learn online. On the other side, not many people on the outside have access to direct information or a good understanding about what happens behind prison walls. Answers Without Words seeks to re-establish an analogue and personalized version of internet image research.”
“Answers Without Words creates a personal experience directly tailored for me, that enables my mind to take a trip abroad,” explains Tom Price, a participant in CRCI.
The questions and photographs will culminate in two exhibitions, one inside the prison and one publicly accessible in Portland, Oregon in Fall 2018. A public lecture will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition as well as a publication about the project that will be available publicly.
“In collaboration with overseas artists, this project supports marginalized artists, consisting of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, building ties between them, their communities, the world and art,” says J Zimmerli, a prisoner at CRCI.
In return for your images, you can then ask questions of your own about the men’s lives inside. A photography workshop in prison will create a counter round of answers without words from the prison back into the world.
“People always want to know what it is like in prison, we can share this information with them,” asserts Musonda Mwango, a participant from CRCI.
“We want to create awareness for the issue of mass incarceration all the while focusing on one person at a time to make people feel human again. With our exchange we challenge our expectations of a foreign country and our expectations of prison and create artistic opportunity for both artists at CRCI and the photographers abroad,” say Schüttler and Thakore.
If you’d like to collaborate, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
– your name.
– the country you are currently located at and from which you’d participate.
– examples of your photographic work (a website URL or 5-10 images).
The prisoners in the Free Mind Collective will send 5 to 10 questions.
Time is ticking though! You have 4 weeks. All materials must be sent to Answers Without Words by March 31st.
Answers Without Words is a project done in conjunction with the Portland State University MFA in Art + Social Practice and funded by the Precipice Fund, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the Calligram Foundation