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Persister Moon

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Persister Moon
Mixed Media

61 x 61 in. (154.94 x 154.94 cm)

Lee Deigaard (Atlanta, GA, 1969 - ) Artist

Object Type: Mixed Media
Medium and Support: dye-sublimated print, pigment print, and artifical hair on aluminum, paper and vinyl
Credit Line: Gift of the artist, in honor of Earlneishka Johnson
Accession Number: 2019.10.1

Artist Statement
"I was immediately struck by Earlneishka’s empathy and her commitment to fairness. She wants to help other people, stand up, and speak for them when they can’t be heard. She was a high school athlete; in many ways these are the values of sports teams and team captains. Her time incarcerated comprised 1/12 of her young life at the time. 21 months, and she turned 21 inside.

With this piece, I hope to pay tribute to her inner and outer beauty without muffling the harsh conditions she and others she described have endured. The central blood moon alludes to the passage of time: the measuring of sentences by months and women’s menstrual cycles. It is a symbol of constancy. Earlneishka’s image in the moon’s shadows references her strength and hard-won wisdom as well as her potential. She reaches out to connect, to help.

In her interview, she spoke movingly of women giving birth in the prison system, miscarriages, even after release, and lack of prenatal care while incarcerated, as well as giving babies up immediately after briefly holding them in handcuffs. The specific trials of women in incarceration are enormous bodily and emotional stresses and sources of PTSD and grief. She said, simply, “We [women] are where you come from,” as she described gender-based excessive use of force and institutional failures of basic compassion. ‘Neisha’ describes herself as a baby when she entered the system. Her figure curled in the moon’s shadow represents her unfolding future as a person.

She explained what it’s like to need basic things that must be purchased. If your family cannot get money to you, you look for ways to earn it. She cut off and sold her long hair and braided other women’s hair. Around the central moon, hair arranged like chain link fencing and molecular forms relating to the stress and fear of incarceration and chronic shortage of menstrual supplies resemble hive and honeycomb or trellis-like networks. Adrenaline is part of the fear and flight response when under extreme duress. Connections with others keep us whole.

The paper petals and flowers are a collaboration made from Neisha’s words and handwriting, torn into fragments in a companionable process of cathartic symbolic relief. The remnants became petals; together we made flowers."

- Lee Deigaard on Earlneishka Johnson

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