The Carolina Union Activities Board is bringing “Windows on Death Row: Art from Inside and Outside the Prison Walls” to the halls of the Student Union.
The free exhibit will feature a keynote speech Tuesday by creator Anne-Frédérique Widmann and former death row inmate Ndume Olatushani.
Widmann will be speaking at the event from the point of view of someone on the outside of the system who has gone inside to gain deep insight into the everyday lives of death row inmates.
She said she hopes to reveal to the world their humanity and suffering.
But Olatushani is speaking from a perspective he can relate to — the prisoner.
He spent 28 years on death row, convicted of a crime he said did not commit. He was freed after new evidence came to light, and he accepted a plea deal that allowed him to be freed without formally exonerating him.
Widmann said she hopes the exhibit opens peoples’ eyes to the raw humanism of death row.
“It’s not about crime,” creator and organizer Widmann said. “This project — it’s really about what comes after. It’s about justice; it’s about our collective response to crime. It’s about the sentence and the way it’s delivered.”
The second aspect of this work is the political cartoon collection. Although vastly different, it blends smoothly with the inmate work to display a gallery of harsh ironies, truths and the raw experiences associated with the American justice system and the death penalty.
Widmann said they will also be calling current inmate Kenneth Reams of Varner Unit high-security prison.
Reams has been on death row since age 18 and has found art as an outlet in his solitary confinement.
“What he’s saying, I think it really interesting. He said ‘OK, I have no power to open the door of my cell, but I can try to do something positive with my life while I’m inside,” Widmann said.
Boateng Kubi, a junior and CUAB’s vice president of outreach and public relations, said he hopes the event will spark conversation among students.
“I think that it’s going to foster really inclusive dialogue on the death penalty, and after tomorrow, we expect campus to be buzzing with noise about the art gallery,” he said.
Already the exhibit seems to have caught the attention of students passing through the Union.
Many stop, take a look at one piece of art and soon are moving down the entire gallery, inspecting each piece.
Senior Meghana Shamsunder found herself in this situation walking through the gallery of the Union.
“I literally was walking, turned to a picture and stopped and was like, ‘That is actually very true,’” she said.
“It hurts your heart to see some of these pictures turn out to be true in real life.”