On the Day They Come Home
Here at Holobiont Laboratory, we were particularly excited to be involved with artists Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist in their creation of the monument On the Day They Come Home. Doing so allowed us all to highlight the overlapping demands and acute necessity for both prison abolition and climate justice. The toxic dynamics of racial capitalism and patriarchal colonialism have produced an economy driven by extraction/depletion rather than regeneration, incarceration rather than healing, and expansion of the wealth of a few at the expense of many.
In creating On the Day They Come Home, Bowles and Strandquist collaborated with five women – Tamika Bell, Paulette Carrington, Starr Granger, Ivy Lenore Johnson, and Yvonne Newkirk – whose lives were, or continue to be, ensnared by long-term and life sentencing. They imagined a prototype monument/memorial that “highlights the struggles of the present, while imagining the day when all women serving life are set free.” The installation is part of Staying Power, an outdoor group art exhibition and program series in the Fairhill-Hartranft neighborhood of Philadelphia, that is on display from May-July 2021. Staying Power asked artists, residents of the neighborhood, and visitors: “What is your staying power in your neighborhood? What is your staying power in a city and world that are rapidly changing?”
Bowles and Strandquist responded to the exhibition’s central prompt by seeking out those missing from the neighborhood, with close attention to women serving long-term and life sentences, asking further, “Who has been displaced? Who is fighting to help them return?” As a monument, On the Day They Come Home celebrates the resiliency and power of former long term and life sentenced women, and those with impacted family, through larger-than-life portraits, poetry carved out of charred wood, and interactive audio installations that bring their photos to life. Around each woman’s portrait is a wreath of flowers that each symbolize a core tenet of the abolitionist world they advocate for: healing, resistance, resiliency, counter-narratives, and love.
As a memorial, the installation makes those sentenced to die in prison undeniably visible (through the hundreds of animated lights suspended above the sculpture), while commemorating the lives and activism of life-sentenced women who died before getting their freedom. Holobiont Laboratory designed the small solar system that powers the light strands that hover above the women’s heads, drawing visitor’s attention to those who still remain in cages, cut off from their family and community. These two hundred lights pulse in different color formations to visualize data about women serving life in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. There are 200 women and trans people serving life in Pennsylvania. 54 of them are from Philadelphia.