Gilda Caesar


Gilda Caesar

They didn't wash your clothes but once a week and you didn't get the clothes that you gave them you didn't get those clothes back, you got other people clothes. Only way you kept your clothes if you wash your clothes on your hands other than that, you didn't have clothes.


Artist Statement

“Mass incarceration is, ultimately, a problem of troublesome entanglements. To war seriously against the disparity in unfreedom requires a war against a disparity in resources. And to war against a disparity in resources is to confront a history in which both the plunder and the mass incarceration of blacks are accepted commonplaces. Our current debate over criminal-justice reform pretends that it is possible to disentangle ourselves without significantly disturbing the other aspects of our lives, that one can extract the thread of mass incarceration from the larger tapestry of racist American policy.”

- Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”, 2015, The Atlantic

The patterned fabric in my paintings is used symbolically. For “Gilda’s Story” I used a flower pattern with roses that feels very “downhome” and Southern. This is a politically poetic painting and it engages Gilda’s real-life story in her own words, as she wrote them down for me during a recent visit to her house in November 2018.

The lettering at the top is in Old English font and stylistically the text has a dialog with the American flag bunting which frames the piece, as if it were stage curtains for a grand presentation. The paper calendar at the bottom marks the dates in 2005 when Gilda served time in Orleans Parish Prison, including when she was transported to Angola Prison on a bus following Hurricane Katrina. She waded through chest-level waters and witnessed terrible things.

Flying the flag upside down is signal of distress. Right now America is at time of crisis and war when it comes to discussing social-political issues. The upside-down flag in this painting symbolizes injustice in the penal system and carceral state. I learn more and more each day about how mass incarceration is a profit-making industry. A lot of the people incarcerated are no so-called “real criminals”; many have been dealing with drug use or drug abuse, not murder or robbery. No doubt, there are crimes committed, but mass incarceration is caused by taking the “let’s lock them up” attitude, rather than rehabilitation and solving the underlying issues of systemic racism and poverty.

- Keith Duncan

Gilda’s Story, 2018