In the heart of the arts district in Bloomington, Indiana, an upcoming art exhibition is set to challenge our perceptions of justice, incarceration, and compassion. “I Was a Prisoner, and You Came to Me” is a transformative showcase of Yuri Kadamov’s artwork, running from October 6 to November 3, 2023, at the Juniper Gallery (615 W Kirkwood Ave). This poignant exhibition takes center stage during the First Friday Gallery Walk on October 6th with an opening reception at 5pm and the following days with a special reception on October 10, World Day Against the Death Penalty.
Yuri is a Lithuanian citizen of Russian descent currently confined to federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana. Since March 2003, he has endured the harsh isolation of solitary confinement and channeled his creative spirit into drawing and painting. “It is my art that keeps me grounded and sane,” says Yuri on the grim reality he faces daily.
Yuri grew up a musician. He would later become a chairman of the Soviet Army orchestra. But beyond music, he has always possessed a special appreciation for beauty. When he first moved to the United States, he had the idea to design built-in aquariums. The idea stemmed from his love of fish and fascination with their environment. Yuri’s artistic capabilities inspired him to build equally delightful display systems to house them.
When faced with the sensory deprivation of solitary confinement, and lack of access to musical equipment, Yuri turned to visual art. He created his own process which he calls “manifestation.” It entails taping a string to the top of his locker and putting a piece of paper on top of the string. He then sprinkles charcoal on the paper and etches the charcoal to take the shape of the string taped to his locker. It’s this pattern that guides the direction of his pieces.
Solitary confinement, often touted as a means of prison discipline and public safety, has come under increasing scrutiny for its lasting and devastating impact on incarcerated people. This harsh practice isolates people in small cages with only a sink and bed for up to 22 – 24 hours a day. Oftentimes, this means an incarcerated person is faced alone with, “reduced or no natural light; restriction or denial of reading material, television, radios or other property; severe constraints on family visitation; and the inability to participate in group activities, including eating with others” according to a briefing from ACLU’s The Dangerous Overuse Of Solitary Confinement In The United States. In 22 years, Yuri has had not a single social visit.
Despite this torture, Yuri has remarkably produced over 4,000 artworks on canvas and paper created using a range of mediums, including graphite, acrylic, colored pencil, and stucco fragments. His art has graced several exhibitions, including a memorable solo exhibition at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 2013-2014 and participation in the “What’s Right, What’s Left: Democracy in America” exhibition in New York City in 2016.
For Yuri, art is more than a hobby used to pass the time. Though he is physically alone when he creates, he does not want his art to be alone: “hang them together so that my friends are not alone, like I am.” Yuri uses his work as a channel through which to connect with those in the free world. He challenges himself with artistic prompts, asking “what would happen if Dali and Picasso collaborated?” He shares his art with those on the outside, asking them to care for his pieces: “I’m so glad that my art gets to be free when I can’t.” In this way, Yuri collaborates with artists past and present.
As Yuri states, “the damage inflicted by solitary confinement cannot be undone or reversed.” Prolonged isolation can lead to severe anxiety, depression, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts, sleep disturbances, weakened immune systems, exacerbating existing mental and physical health conditions, and increased risk of chronic health issues. Absent sunlight, many [people in solitary] have become deficient in Vitamin D. The deterioration of a person’s overall well-being during solitary confinement only compounds the challenges they face upon returning into the communities they’re from, making rehabilitation and successful reentry more difficult.
That’s why, in partnership with Death Penalty Action, Yuri is encouraging people to sign the petition, “End Solitary Confinement on Federal Death Row,” to shed light on this unconstitutional and inhumane practice. Death Penalty Action “provides high visibility resources, support, educational and direct action events and activities within the broader anti-death penalty movement.”
At Justice Arts Coalition, we understand the transformative and healing power of art. Please join us in supporting Yuri’s mission to end solitary confinement by signing the petition at bit.ly/EndSolitaryFederalDP.
You can learn more about Yuri and his work at: https://sites.google.com/site/yurikadamov/home
“I was a Prisoner, and You Came to Me”
Opening reception: Friday, Oct 6, 5-8pm
Free parking behind the gallery:
Juniper Art Gallery
615 W Kirkwood Ave
Bloomington, IN 47404
Yuri’s artwork can also be viewed in JAC’s Dreamscapes exhibition, opening in Tulsa, OK on October 6. For more information, please visit our Exhibitions page.
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