Thursday, September 17, 2009

NORTH CAROLINA: exhibit's sparks Death Pen. Debate

Exhibit's close sparks death penalty debate

For the past 7 months, students walking in and out of the Friedl building might have met something unexpected-images of inmates being lynched, sitting in electric chairs and awaiting their ultimate deaths.

PreMeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment, an anti-death penalty exhibit by award-winning Chicano artist Malaquias Montoya, has been on display in the Fredric Jameson Gallery since March and officially closed Wednesday night. The exhibit consists of works of acrylic paint, murals, drawings and silkscreens-Montoya's signature style.

To commemorate the exhibit's closing, the Program in Latino/Latina Studies in the Global South and the Duke Human Rights Center co-sponsored a reception with the Innocence Project at the School of Law, the Duke chapter of Amnesty International and the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium. Durham's state Sen. Floyd McKissick and Darryl Hunt, a man exonerated in 2004 after spending 19 years in prison, spoke at the event.

"There were so many other innocent men and women [in jail], and I am trembling because I am still affected by these pictures. I have been there and I was not on death row, but I am looking here and it just makes me sick to think about how close I came to being on death row," said Hunt, who said he was only one jury vote away from being sentenced to death.

Sophomore Carrie Mills said although the works of art were amazing, she most appreciated listening to Hunt describe his experiences in prison.

"I have never met anybody in person who has endured that," Mills said. "And his sheer grace and the way that he spoke was magnificent."

Both Hunt and McKissick took questions from the audience. During the discussion forum, McKissick said it would be more cost-effective to disperse resources to systems that prevent criminal activity as opposed to spending high amounts on maximum-security prisons, an idea that Montoya emphasizes in his exhibit.

"We create the situations that lead our children to commit monstrous acts and then we kill them," the opening display of the exhibit states.

McKissick discussed the North Carolina Racial Justice Act. which he sponsored and which North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law Aug. 11. The law allows inmates currently on death row to argue that the jury's decision to pursue the death penalty was racially biased. If successful, inmates can be removed from death row.

Robin Kirk, director of the Duke Human Rights Center, said the center hopes the recent passage of the law will be a move in the direction of eliminating the death penalty in North Carolina. Even if actual abolition of the death penalty is years away, Kirk said the event was important because it showed that the death penalty is a human rights issue, something she said many of her students do not understand.

"I think too often Americans think that human rights are something that happens somewhere else, and that we don't have issues with human rights," Kirk said in an interview. "But I think the problem is that we do, and the death penalty is one of the main areas that Americans need to be thinking about if we want to become a rights-friendly country."

The Latino/Latina Studies program brought the exhibit to Duke, but Antonio Viego, the faculty director of the program, said program leaders met with other University departments before acquiring the exhibit, as many of Montoya's images could be considered disturbing.

"We agreed that no, this was actually something that was extremely interesting and more thought-provoking regardless of what your stance is," Viego said.

Currently, the exhibit-which has appeared in 13 venues in eight states-is awaiting its next host site, and officials are currently in talks with the Oakland Museum in Oakland, Calif.

(Sept 17 2009 source: The Chronicle)

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