Design

Behind the Captured Project, Where ‘People in Prison Draw People Who Should Be’

by DJ Pangburn

February 19, 2016
The Koch brothers of Koch Industries by Joseph Acker, prison ID #15967538

America’s prison-industrial complex is, largely speaking, a brutalizing force for those who have no place in the Darwinian world of the American economy. All the while, the nation’s corporate offenders—men and women who harm the environment and destroy economies for their own benefit—walk freely among us.

This frustrating irony is on full display in artists Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider’s Captured, a book that features artwork by “people in prison drawing the people who should be.” Greenspan and Tider found criminals notable for their skill with pen or brush, and asked them to draw or paint portraits of CEOs and other corporate leaders who place profit above human beings and the planet. Naturally, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and the Koch brothers become the subjects of wonderful portraiture. Greenspan and Tider are using proceeds from the book to support Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Greenspan and Tider worked with inmates convicted of manslaughter, for instance, comparing their actions to General Motors’ having knowingly delayed (for more than 10 years) a fix for a defect in car ignition switches that was directly responsible for more than 124 deaths. They also worked with an inmate convicted of indecency with a minor. Tider parallels this to the company Nestlé, which uses 12- to 14-year-old children to harvest its cocoa. “These children were forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week, paid nothing, barely fed, and beaten regularly,” Tider tells GOOD.

Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs by Ryan Gragg, prison ID #1651297

Greenspan and Tider, who have been collaborating artistically since 2010, originally hit on the idea for Captured after watching documentaries on environmental issues. They saw many egregious acts being perpetrated by major corporations, and nobody going to prison as a result.

“It struck us that any ordinary person would certainly be jailed for the things these corporations do,” Tider says. “We wondered what people in prison must think of this situation. Our first thought was to start a discussion with inmates about this lack of unevenness in the justice system. Eventually that led to a simplification of the idea into something everyone could easily digest. People in prison drawing people who should be.”

In developing the Captured project, the book’s compilers decided the portraits would focus on the leadership of companies with the longest and/or most egregious histories of crimes against the environment, the economy, and society at large. At the time the portraits were commissioned, all depicted CEOs held their titles, though some have since stepped down. Tider says that in some cases a CEO was not in power when the highlighted crimes were committed, though they were included because they either held other senior positions during the time in question, or did little to change corrupt business practices once assuming executive control.

Indra Nooyi of Pepsi by John Vercusky, prison ID #55341-066

Tider characterizes the process as a long one with many missteps. At first they contacted prison wardens and people who ran prison art programs. This strategy, however, was mostly a dead end.

“Jeff then spent countless hours searching places like eBay for consistently amazing prison art,” Tider explains. “We reached out to the people holding the auction (most often a family member of the incarcerated person) and asked if they felt their connection would be interested in being a part of the project. This led us to inmates from all across the country.”

Eventually, the project “went viral” within the prisons, as Tider describes it. Participating inmates would speak to other inmates, who would then get in touch with Greenspan and Tider about getting involved.

“We received beautiful letters from several of them, with comments like, ‘Thank you from the bottom of my heart for choosing me for this project. I really can’t begin to explain the inner emotions that it triggered in my damn near empty soul,’” Tider says. “Another commented on how this had been the first time he used his skills to make honest money. And ‘This is the first time in two years I’ve done something I feel positive about.’ It was incredibly moving.”

Each imprisoned artist was assigned a CEO and given background information on the affiliated company’s crimes. If the artist showed a lack of interest in a particular CEO or corporation for any reason, Greenspan and Tider provided the inmate with another option.

Ian Read of Pfizer by Joseph Sharrow, prison ID #D-3-102

“Beyond that, we simply asked them not to overly editorialize the portraits,” Tider says. “We felt the project was already editorializing, so we wanted to keep the portraits ‘traditional.’”

Tider describes the final product as a beautiful coffee-table art book of about 60 pages. It includes high-quality prints of the full-size portraits alongside the “rap sheets” of both artists and corporations.

“The printer, Oddi, is an amazing company and has given us some special consideration so we can donate as much money as possible to efforts to help Bernie Sanders get elected,” Tider says. “The book also includes a special foreword by Meg Worden, a writer, felon, and social justice advocate.”

Not all profits will go directly to Sanders’ campaign. Greenspan, Tider, and a few other people directly involved in the project are donating their individual allowable maximum amounts to the campaign from the book profits. The rest of the money will be donated to various indirect efforts to help Sanders get elected.

Ellen Kullman, formerly of Dupont, by Jaime Vidales, prison ID #K96986

“All of this is because holding corporations responsible for their crimes and reforming the criminal justice system are pillars of [Sanders’] campaign,” Tider explains.

While many corporations operate in the United States and around the globe with seeming lawlessness and impunity, Tider and Greenspan hope that this will change. That change wouldn’t necessarily arise from the imprisonment of CEOs, corporate board members, and stockholders for the systemic problems they help create, but because these people, too, awaken each day to the fragility of existence on this planet.

“We are hopeful for a day when everyone, from CEOs to stockholders and consumers, are aware their actions, choices, and purchases are all interconnected,” Tider muses. “And profit is pointless if it damages people, because in the end, what we do to others we do to ourselves.”

Stuart Gulliver of HSBC by Mario “A.B.” Beltran, prison ID #437846

All images courtesy of Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider

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Behind the Captured Project, Where ‘People in Prison Draw People Who Should Be’