Writing on the Wall

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New York, New York, USA

The United States accounts for only 5% of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 22% of those in prison globally—more than 2 million people. Americans almost never see the suffering and deeply inhuman conditions people who are incarcerated endure. People who are incarcerated often languish voiceless, powerless, and unable to connect with the outside world, and then receive little to no support when they are released and attempt to reintegrate into society.

The Writing on the Wall, a collaboration between artist Hank Willis Thomas, Dr. Baz Dreisinger, and MASS Design Group, is a traveling exhibition and installation constructed from over 2,500 essays, poems, letters, stories, drawings and notes written by individuals in prison around the world. The project was conceived by Dr. Dreisinger and conceptual artist Thomas as an effort to spread awareness and promote efforts to end mass incarceration. The exhibition was designed by MASS Design Group.

Viewers walk through a space emulating individual cells, presenting these often-unseen spaces to a wider audience. Referencing the palimpsest-like writing on the walls of prison cells throughout history, the exhibition layers writings onto opaque and transparent acrylic panels. The personal experiences, thoughts, and emotions of people who are incarcerated are visible within this enclosed space, connecting visitors to these individuals and challenging them to better understand the crisis of our modern criminal justice system. The exhibition will serve as a platform for incarcerated individuals to share their voices amid growing conversations on the effects of mass incarceration around the world.

The Writing on the Wall opened on October 31st on the High Line in New York City, and was on display through November 10th.


Project Details

40.74833034, -74.00499998

Location: New York, New York, USA

Year: 2019

Status: Completed

Size: 630 sq. ft.

Program: Memorial

Services: Conception, Exhibit Design, Transportation Design

Writing on the Wall, LLC

Hank Willis Thomas, Dr. Baz Dreisinger, Openbox