Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration



A powerful document of the inner lives and creative visions of men and women rendered invisible by America's prison system.

More than two million people are currently behind bars in the United States. Incarceration not only separates the imprisoned from their families and communities; it also exposes them to shocking levels of deprivation and abuse and subjects them to the arbitrary cruelties of the criminal justice system. Yet, as Nicole Fleetwood reveals, America's prisons are filled with art. Despite the isolation and degradation they experience, the incarcerated are driven to assert their humanity in the face of a system that dehumanizes them.

Based on interviews with currently and formerly incarcerated artists, prison visits, and the author's own family experiences with the penal system, Marking Time shows how the imprisoned turn ordinary objects into elaborate works of art. Working with meager supplies and in the harshest conditions--including solitary confinement--these artists find ways to resist the brutality and depravity that prisons engender. The impact of their art, Fleetwood observes, can be felt far beyond prison walls. Their bold works, many of which are being published for the first time in this volume, have opened new possibilities in American art.

As the movement to transform the country's criminal justice system grows, art provides the imprisoned with a political voice. Their works testify to the economic and racial injustices that underpin American punishment and offer a new vision of freedom for the twenty-first century.

Product Details

$39.95  $35.96
Harvard University Press
Publish Date
April 28, 2020
8.4 X 1.5 X 8.1 inches | 2.0 pounds
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About the Author

Nicole R. Fleetwood is the professor of American studies and art history at Rutgers University. Her work on art and mass incarceration has been featured at the Aperture Foundation, the Zimmerli Museum of Art, the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, and the Cleveland Public Library, and her exhibitions have been praised by the Nation, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Village Voice. She is the author of On Racial Icons and of Troubling Vision, which won the Lora Romero Prize from the American Studies Association. Her book Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration was published in April 2020.


Fleetwood leaves no stone unturned as she envelops the reader in an immersive and bristling study of what it takes to make art and survive in the age of mass incarceration. A groundbreaking, unique, and necessary work.--Cheryl Finley, Inaugural Distinguished Visiting Director, Atlanta University Center Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective
Nicole Fleetwood's illuminating narrative centers and amplifies the brilliant aesthetic engagements of those most impacted by the carceral regime. Through stunningly original cultural analysis, visionary curation, and intellectual tenacity, Marking Time confronts the violence of captivity and propels readers toward a future without cages. This book is an extraordinary achievement.--Sarah Haley, author of No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity
Marking Time is a tremendous achievement that provides one of the most important discussions of prisons to date. Nicole Fleetwood illuminates the world of incarcerated artists and brings readers into their lives with powerful analysis and care. It is the kind of book that stays with you long after you finish, inspiring change in us all.--Elizabeth Hinton, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America
Monumental, expansive, and revelatory, Marking Time masterfully traces the connection between prisons and the art world. This book will define how the intersections of art, incarceration, and the fight for freedom are written about for decades to come.--Jesse Krimes, artist, curator, and cofounder of Right of Return USA