Many students who walk the hallways of Santa Clara University’s main library may be surprised to know the background of a highly unusual art exhibit gracing the walls as they study for finals.
Dubbed “Freedom of Expression,” the art exhibit features artwork from 11 men and one woman who have either been exonerated after doing time for crimes they did not commit, or remain imprisoned despite strong evidence collected by the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) that they should be freed.
Since its founding in 2001, NCIP has freed 18 people who collectively have spent more than 230 years wrongfully imprisoned. The exhibit was developed by NCIP, with pro bono curator, Laura Pittman, as another way to educate the public about how people survive the traumas of wrongful conviction and how art can be used as a vehicle to help them grapple with injustice.
The raw artwork depicts various aspects of the inner lives of these men and women.
“Exonerees are whole people,” says Hadar Harris, executive director of NCIP. “Art is a way for them to experience their truth and express the trauma of being locked up. It can also be used as a way to help healing when they get out. This exhibit demonstrates the vitality, creativity and humanity of people who are wrongfully convicted.”
There are pencil-drawing depictions of people with their heads hung down in despair created by Francisco Carrillo, Jr., who was exonerated in 2011 after 20 years of wrongful incarceration for murder.
Isaac Duran, who remains incarcerated 14 years after being convicted, wrongfully, his lawyers believe, for attempted murder contributed a pencil drawing of Winnie the Pooh.
Gary Tomlin, who had lost all opportunities for appeal despite strong evidence that his conviction for raping another man was falsely obtained, contributed an oil painting of a sunflower. Mr. Tomlin recently passed away before his freedom could be won.
The exhibit also featured portraits of NCIP exonerees photographed by renowned Santa Clara University Fine Arts Professor Renee Billingslea. On April 27, NCIP hosted a reception to highlight the exhibit and its artists. Exoneree and NCIP Advisory Board member Rick Walker, who contributed a number of pieces to the exhibit, gave a short presentation entitled “Expression from the Inside,” about the importance of artistic expression in his journey. Rick was exonerated in 2003 after spending 12-years in prison, wrongfully convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend.
The exhibit initially premiered at NCIP’s Justice for All Awards Dinner on March 2nd to great fanfare. Following the dinner, the exhibit was moved to the second floor of the Harrington Learning Commons on the Santa Clara University campus. The exhibit is open to the public and will remain on display through June.