The O.G. Experience
By Allie Waxman
The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world: The 2.3 million people imprisoned in the U.S represents nearly a quarter of the global prison population. The O.G. Experience, an immersive art installation in Chelsea, NYC, centered on the voices and experiences of those who have been the most impacted by incarceration and uncovers important truths about the United States’ history of oppression.
The art on display was exclusively the work of formerly incarcerated artists, providing a uniquely honest, insider narrative about the U.S. prison system.
In addition to displaying the work of formerly incarcerated artists, the space hosted three dinners where individuals connected to criminal justice reform and post-incarceration rehabilitation discussed truth and reconciliation, community impact, and narrative shifting. Among the attendees were artists Russell Craig and Jesse Krimes and O.G. director Madeleine Sackler.
To explain one of his pieces, Apokaluptein:16389067, a breathtaking 15x40-foot image transfer mural constructed out of prison bedsheets, Krimes told a story about sentencing leniency. The artist suspected he received fewer years because of the color of his skin. “That lit a fire in me, because clearly that’s just wrong,” he explained, noting that moment as the catalyst for his piece.
“I began collecting all the images out of The New York Times that were available: depictions of war, scenes of oppression, uprisings and natural disasters,” Krimes explained. “At the same time, in the same exact newspaper, there were depictions of a woman trying to sell products, of typically one body-type.” For Krimes, removing the images from their editorial contexts was what created meaning in his piece: “This wasn’t my aesthetic decision, this was what was available. This was how the media portrayed things in society.”
Two of Russell Craig’s pieces were created following his release from prison. E. Val is a play on a Rorschach test, incorporating faces of men who have been affected by police brutality. Craig, who was given Rorschach tests as part of his psychological evaluations during his time in the foster care system, wanted to represent the trauma felt in black communities. His other piece is a self-portrait painted on a canvas of Craig’s own court documents. “The piece on my prison documents symbolizes the stigma of being a criminal,” Craig explained. “No matter how much you change your life around, you’re still viewed as a criminal.”
O.G. director Madeleine Sackler expressed her gratitude for the individuals working to impact policy. “People have been doing this work a lot longer than I or anyone who worked on this film have,” Sackler acknowledged. “We want to give the film back to you to have those further conversations.”
The O.G. Experience picked up where the film left off, telling the stories of myriad individuals across the United States who have been involved in the prison system. The O.G. Experience sparked a conversation about the staggering effects incarceration has on our communities (both inside and outside of the penal system) and raised critical questions that will lead us to actionable solutions.