The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes
July 15 – October 11 2009
Over the course of his career, Rigo 23 has created conceptually complex murals, paintings, drawings, and performances, conducted interventions and published zines all of which have advocated for social and political change. His site-specific installation for the New Museum was part of a series of works that took as their subject political prisoners such as Leonard Peltier, Geronimo ji-Jaga, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the Angola 3. Entitled The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes, the work is inspired by the words of Herman Wallace, a member of the Angola 3. Wallace, together with Albert Woodfox, began the first prison chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1971 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola. Robert H. King joined them when he was transferred to the prison after being falsely accused of a crime in 1972. The Angola 3 fought for prison reform from within the prison system by a variety of methods. They staged hunger strikes to assure that prisoners were handed their meals (rather than having them served on the floor), they protected young prisoners from sexual predators, and perhaps most importantly, they insisted upon equal rights for all prisoners.
After 32 years of incarceration, 29 of which were spent in CCR (Closed Cell Restriction)—a minimum of 23 hours a day inside a 6 x 9 x 12-foot cell—King’s conviction was overturned in 2001. Rigo 23 developed a friendship with King following his release and painted TRUTH (2002), a mural in San Francisco’s Civic Center to commemorate his triumphant vindication. Wallace and Woodfox, however, remain in isolation. King continues to work tirelessly for their release, sharing his experiences at universities, schools, museums, and community centers internationally, and through his recently published autobiography.
The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes provided a sensory experience, highlighting the confinement of a kind of “non-space” in the museum and challenging visitors with views that mimic those confronting over two million prisoners in the United States, home to the world’s largest penal system. This installation steered the viewer to an unfamiliar place—such as a restricted prison cell—to allow individual contemplation as well as the possibility of a collective conversation about the underlying politics of our justice system. Wallace’s words, reiterated in the title of Rigo 23’s new work, reverberate between the narrow walls of the Shaft Project Space, but also extend beyond the confines of the New Museum to alert the public to the plight of political prisoners worldwide.
The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes was curated by Amy Mackie, Curatorial Assistant.
This project was made possible by The Greenwall Foundation. A new zine accompanying The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes is available in the New Museum Store. Community Futures Collective/Angola 3 provided additional support for the publication.