The one thing about coming from prison is you have to be extraordinary ... Why? Because I have something to prove. When you show people who you are, they believe you. I've shown people who I am ... I'm the person that's walking around my job and in office doing paperwork and talking to a kid. People wonder why I'm so happy because I'm making $13 an hour and they're complaining that they're not making $20. Because I came from making six cents an hour. And that's why. I have to be extraordinary in everything that I do and that's it… My very first job, they let me go when my background came back. And I was an extraordinary worker by my boss's own admission. She was like "Dolita, you the only person I can count on." The insurance company wouldn't cover me because I was convicted for theft. And she was like, "They won't even cover you" she said, "I tried to fight for you so bad.” I was feeling so down and I could have easily resorted to what I knew, but this time I changed my mindset … we call it criminal menopause.
In 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, slavery was abolished; however, forced labor has remained legal under the circumstances of punishment for crimes. This artwork takes on the American flag as a compositional framework, and it brings a new interpretation to the stripes it bears by drawing visual associations to prison bars, chain gangs, and systems of confinement that have been in use since the middle passage and colonial era.
Historic imagery sourced from the Internet captures the movement of imprisoned bodies across the Americas, and serves as a background for Dolita Wilhike’s portrait, in which she doubles as the political activist and scholar Angela Davis. “13th” attempts to express the raw determination, intelligence and strength of all women struggling for equality and freedom on American soil - particularly the generations of families who are suffering economically in Louisiana, seemingly with no end in sight. The linear brushwork suggests a compressed passage of time that functions as a loop.