Images and words from Oklahoma’s incarcerated women informed one local artist’s latest exhibition, currently on display at Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum. It also reflects his longtime hope to liberate a state that has led the nation in per capita female imprisonment for nearly 20 years.
Photographer Yousef Khanfar shot 101 images of women convicted of nonviolent crimes to compile his forthcoming book, Invisible Eve. He visited women held at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft and Kate Barnard Community Corrections Center (formerly Hillside Corrections Center when he began the project in 2009) in Oklahoma City.
“I went in with the idea that every woman is a person who deserves a good portrait and deserves a voice,” Khanfar said.
Accompanying the 35 black-and-white portraits featured in the exhibition, also titled Invisible Eve, are handwritten statements from the subjects.
“I might not be able to help the women inside the prison,” Khanfar said, “but their images and messages will help the women outside the prison.”
He said young women and children will understand better these direct messages with an artistic perspective rather than the more mundane “right and wrong” campaigns.
The subjects’ “words of wisdom” were powerful, painful and insightful, and writing them in turn empowered and united them, Khanfar said.
“They felt like part of the solution, not part of the problem, for just a minute,” he said.
from Kuwait, Khanfar is now a resident of Oklahoma City. During his 25
years living in Oklahoma, he learned not only that the Sooner State was
leading in female incarceration per capita, but also lacked alternatives
for those behind bars.
Breaking the cycle
Currently, more than 2,400 women are incarcerated in Oklahoma, roughly 10 percent of the prison population.
such as the Tulsa-based Women in Recovery can benefit the state’s social
and economic well-being and “break the cycle of intergenerational
poverty,” said Amy Santee, senior program officer of the George Kaiser
foundation funds Women in Recovery, which is an initiative of Family
& Children’s Services, a nonprofit that provides counseling,
rehabilitation and child care for women facing nonviolent, drug-related
rate of female incarceration is 121 women per 100,000, double the
national average. The state has claimed the top rate since 1994, with
the exception of one year, Santee said.
think what this exhibit will do is expose the issue to more people in a
really beautiful and meaningful way because it puts a face with a
statistic,” she said.
After its run ends Sept. 7 at Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum, Invisible Eve will travel for the next three years to culture centers, museums and universities nationwide.
Khanfar will discuss the Invisible Eve project and sign copies of the book from 2 to 4 p.m June 22 at Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 Northwest Expressway.
Hey! Read This:
• Yousef Khanfar at YMCA