In conjunction with HBO’s release of its newest prison drama, “O.G.,” formerly incarcerated artists put their works on display at Studio 525 in Manhattan’s Chelsea district through an exhibition titled ‘The O.G. Experience’ in order to call attention to their otherwise ignored stories.
The realistic and artfully composed film follows Louis (Jeffrey Wright) as he nears the end of his 24-year prison sentence and begins to grapple with what life on the outside will mean for him.
The O.G. was written and filmed with the consultation and input of actual men from the Indiana prison. The narrative of incarcerated men and women is often glossed over and romanticized in pop-culture, until director Madeleine Sackler collaborated with and provided a platform for the actual inmates of Indiana’s Pendleton Correctional Facility, where the film was also shot.
“The entire concept around both O.G. and the documentary was really based around my deep belief that people should participate in the telling of their own stories,” said Sackler. “And so, everything we did from the writing of the script to the workshopping of the script, to the rewriting of the script, to the casting of the film, the shooting of the film -all of it was done from inside of one particular prison in Eastern Indiana called Pendleton.”
The pop-up art exhibit gave formerly incarcerated artists a similar outlet to share their stories adjacent with the premiere of the film. The artistic experience, more than anything, felt like a continuation of where the film left off.
“We’re really excited to bring this story to our viewers and the world. Just a little bit about the space that we’re standing in, for those of you, if this is your first time, this was inspired by the film,” added VP of Multicultural Marketing at HBO Jackie Gagne. “It was inspired by O.G. All of the work that you’re seeing has been done by formerly incarcerated artists. These works really share the stories of struggle, of pain, of inspiration, and creativity, and ultimately, of resilience of heart.”
Co-curator of the exhibition and formerly incarcerated artist, Jesse Krimes, emphasized just how important it is to enable those with lived incarceration experiences to express their own perspective.
“It’s all about how we create space and create platforms for people to be able to control their own narrative, to be able to speak on their own behalf and that’s what this exhibition is really about,” said Krimes. “This is one of the pieces I created while I was incarcerated. I served 6 years and these are all prison bedsheets with image transfers out of the New York Times, using hair gel and a plastic spoon.”
Additionally, The O.G. Experience co-chair and featured artist, Russell Craig, noted the struggle for formerly incarcerated people to find stability on the outside. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with about 2.3 million people presently behind bars. That makes for roughly one quarter of the world’s prison population.
For many, life on the outside after prison doesn’t come easy. Craig spoke humbly about the role art had on his life after his sentence was up.
“Once you see this film, and you see the prison experience, the prison I was in was very similar to this, and when I was going through that and I knew that I was getting out, I came up with a plan of how I will survive. When you’re a felon, you can’t get a job easy and things like that. So I devised a plan that I would be an artist and that’s how I’ll make a living,” said Craig.
“My works speak to that thought that I had when I was like all is against me,” he added. “That if I could be an artist, I was going to be like a tattoo artist, I could be my own boss, so then naturally, the work that I wanted to create is what you see. My portrait symbolizes being targeted by the system, of being targeted by America, my prison experience, so it’s an honor to be in this space and to be able to bring that for you all to see.”
Even in the confines of solitary confinement, Krimes described the value that hiding little pieces of soap with images transferred onto them, hidden in decks of prison playing cards, had on his mental safety.
“In many of the same ways that I was creating these works as a way to just maintain my humanity, maintain my sanity, all of the other artists in this exhibition were doing very similar things, just from their own perspectives and telling their own stories,” added Krimes.
The inspiring assembly of the various artists, speakers and performances left an air of gratitude and a need for change.
“Thanks HBO for giving us a platform and just being involved in the film. The film is excellent,” said Craig.
O.G. is now available on HBO streaming services.
The O.G. Experience is no longer available, but check out pictures from the opening night below!