Editor’s Letter – December, 2013

December 5, 2013

Drawings of Rikers Island detainees by Ricardo Cortés.

Drawings of Rikers Island detainees by Ricardo Cortés.

Reed-thin pencil marks bring to life the faces of the often ignored masses that move in and out of New York City’s Rikers Island detention center in Ricardo Cortés’s first contribution to Creative Time Reports. For years, the illustrator has visited the Rikers jails, limning eyes and lips on chalk-white sheets of paper while “marveling at how the people I meet simply accept being locked in a cage for the most precious months and years of their lives”—not because they are content there, but because they have recognized that “on Rikers Island it is not fruitful to be angry.” The detainees, whom Cortés describes as “kind, funny, depressed, angry, anxious, brilliant, bored, [and] calm,” are disproportionately people of color. They often languish in jail for months before even standing trial for their minor offenses, because they can’t afford the bail. As crushes of Americans overwhelm an already brimming prison population—the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rates—Creative Time Reports will continue to uphold its commitment to understanding this rapidly devolving and unsustainable situation by giving voice to people like Cortés, who are actively unpacking a deeply tangled circumstance.

Matters of injustice and persecution are also spotlighted in Flags and Punishment, a video by Jim Hodges, along with Encke King and Carlos Marques da Cruz, that details the penal repercussions—including lifetime imprisonment with hard labor, forced psychiatric treatment and even death by public stoning—for same-sex relations in more than a third of the world’s countries. Hodges’s accompanying text acts as a call to action to residents of the countries with the most punitive sentences as it “feeds an urgent conversation about how to ensure LGBTQ people basic human rights, respect and legal protection.”

Some of the most draconian responses to homosexuality take place in Uganda, as photographer Bénédicte Desrus’s elegiac images show. The situation in the East African nation worsened in 2009 when legislators there introduced an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would punish “aggravated homosexuality” with death. Desrus’s pictures take us to the home of a gay Ugandan sex worker, the scene of a witch doctor performing a ritual aimed at halting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a stage featuring Bible-thumping priests speaking to crowds at an anti-gay rally and a neon-tinged bar in Kampala deemed safe for the gay and lesbian community.

December also marks the first installment of our partnership with Marfa Dialogues, which, with the help of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the Public Concern Foundation and Ballroom Marfa, organized a month-long conference in New York City that brought together artists and scientists to address issues of climate change and environmental activism. Our first iteration features a panel discussion with artist Maya Lin and Natural Resources Defense Council president Frances Beinecke moderated by Creative Time President and Artistic Director Anne Pasternak. The hour-long conversation, which can be downloaded from iTunes, illustrates the ways in which culture can help shift the conversation on human impact on environmental degradation into one where, as Maya Lin explains, you “touch people emotionally for them to feel like we don’t have a right to do this.”

Marisa Mazria Katz