Cindy Blažević is a Canadian-Croatian visual artist who uses photography to document private narratives within the shifting landscapes of larger social and political spaces, exploring themes of identity, authority and access. She has exhibited and taught both in Canada and Europe and has received numerous grants for her art collections and projects. Blending oral history with visual expression and employing collaborative and participative processes are key to her process. For more on Ms. Blažević’s past projects, see: http://cindyblazevic.com
Project: Through A Prison System, Darkly: Criminal Justice Through the Lens of Kingston Penitentiary
As Osgoode’s inaugural Artist in Residence, Cindy Blažević photographed Kingston Penitentiary, the birthplace of the federal correctional system, after it closed its doors in 2013. "Seeing KP at the end of its life, without prisoners, allows us to see artifacts of lives lived within the building as well as the inherent limitations not only of this particular institution, but of any prison," she said.
In order to better contextualize the photographs and what they might mean to different viewers, Blažević then collaborated with upper-year law students to create a legal and historical narrative for those images, focusing on the challenges facing the Canadian penal system.
The result is the photo-based artwork Through A Prison System, Darkly: Criminal Justice Through the Lens of Kingston Penitentiary, which appears on kingpen.osgoode.yorku.ca.
For the exhibition, a 600-square-foot installation of the photograph Colonialism, Continued 2013, was wrapped around the exterior of the Law School's east-facing glass structure. The image, which is on view until March 2016, is an illustration of a Plains-style teepee superimposed onto a photo of a small, enclosed prison yard – a place where Indigenous cultural practices would often take place inside Kingston Pen. The image references the problematic relationship between Aboriginals and the justice system, as well as systemic problems that have their roots in colonialism and its implementation of residential schools.
The following URL links directly to an audio narration by Jeffery Hewitt LLB’96, General Counsel to Chippewas of Rama First Nation who served as a McMurtry Visiting Clinical Fellow at Osgoode in 2013-14. Hewitt was one of 11 stakeholders interviewed for Blažević’s project.
Installation view of Colonialism, Continued
Installation view of Colonialism, Continued, 2013, altered photograph on perforated vinyl, 35’ x 18’
A Human Enterprise
A paint-by-numbers kit and scribbles are among the artifacts left behind in the cells of Kingston Penitentiary.
An illustration of a Plains-style teepee is superimposed onto a photo of a small, enclosed prison yard--a place where Indigenous cultural practices would often take place. The actual teepee was packed away, as part of the decommissioning process, before Blažević had a chance to photograph it.
Design For Another Era
Walkways intersect in front of the grandiose north facade of the main cellblock building (left) and an admin building (right) that was once used as a chapel and a dining hall.
Cabinets and a fridge sit in front of the control room window for the metal workshop. Blazevic's work notes that incarcerated women do not have the same programming opportunities (and hence post-prison work qualifications) that men do.
One of the bungalows that make up the Private Family Units sits behind a barbed chain-link fence. In the distance looms the dome and the structure of the main cellblock building.
Only System That Can't Say No
Painted footprints indicate where male, female and child visitors should stand to be searched and/or sniffed by dogs for drugs and other contraband items.
A children's play area in the corner of a visitation room. A sign, below, offers a grammatically confusing warning to visitors and/or prisoners. Many participants in Blažević's project note that the stress of incarceration extends well beyond the person being incarcerated.