Oxy Arts hosted the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) for a watercolor workshop that highlighted the CCWP’s Writing Warriors program March 30. Writing Warriors connects incarcerated women and transgender and gender non-conforming people with supportive resources and people.
At the watercolor workshop, community members gathered in Oxy Arts, where Erin Neff, a frequent volunteer at CCWP and opera singer, gave a presentation.
In her presentation, Neff highlighted the importance of corresponding with currently incarcerated people and of CCWP’s goal of abolishing the prison industrial complex.
“CCWP is dedicated to giving voice to the experiences of those people in prison,” Neff said. “People inside know far more about the prison system than those of us who have never been incarcerated.”
A large majority of people in women’s prisons do not receive frequent visits, Neff said. Women in these prisons are often mothers or survivors of domestic and sexual assault, and many are incarcerated on minor drug charges.
“The majority of people we correspond with cherish the knowledge that people from the outside have not forgotten about them — giving them a sense of hope and resilience,” Neff said.
According to Rory Hayes ’21, coordinator of community programs at Oxy Arts, participants created watercolor paintings inspired by Occidental’s 2021 Wanlass Artist in Residence EJ Hill. Hill is known for his artistic exploration of identities, according to the Oxy Arts website.
“The whole purpose of the event was to embrace an act of care and to practice freely and unapologetically,” Hayes said. “That connection of healing, passion, resistance and rehabilitation and just wanting to get rid of expectations built around certain bodies and their cultural expectations.”
Manager of Education and Community Engagement at Oxy Arts Frankie Fleming said that while planning events for his residency, Hill wanted to explore the idea of a collaboration with CCWP.
“CCWP seemed like a really natural fit in terms of the alignment of their mission with the ideas that EJ was exploring in his exhibition,” Fleming said.
Hayes said the CCWP’s work not only remains crucial for effective prison abolition work, but also provides incarcerated people with valuable human connection they may not otherwise receive.
“It’s important for folks who are incarcerated to have connections to people on the outside,” Hayes said. “That they feel like they have something, or someone, who is there for them.”
The watercolor paintings created by the participants are set to be sent to currently incarcerated members of the Writing Warriors program, and CCWP has encouraged them and other Occidental community members to attend the program’s LA meeting via Zoom April 17.
“Something as simple as a watercolor painting could brighten their day and be the thing that inspires them,” Hayes said.
Fleming said she is committed to continuing to bring in artists with strong commitments to raising awareness about social justice, and she appreciates opportunities to connect. She said the workshop is a great way for students to learn about CCWP and to get involved in working long-term with the organization.
“I was really happy last night at the workshop that people were just organically talking to each other,” Fleming said. “Oxy Arts is a really unique part of the college in terms of being a learning space but also a social space where students can interact with local artists and members of the community and young people in the neighborhood.”
Oxy Arts will continue to host events as part of Hill’s residence until April 22. Designer and stylist Jillian Cainghug will showcase her work in “Pieces of the Past: Practice of Protection, Healing & Celebration” April 8. The last event will be a closing reception April 22 for Hill’s exhibition which will feature Hill and his band, Daisy Days.