FUTURE: GENDER AND THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
63x98cm, digital illustration print
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ABOUT THE WORK
In Sara's own words
To conceptualise what the future of Gender within the Justice System could look like within the next 100 years I wanted to look to how conversations about Gender and Justice are shaping themselves today. Currently, in 2020, we are starting to have very radical and insightful conversation about the restrictiveness of gender as a binary and we are asserting rights for Transgender, Non-Binary and Intersex people. Within the Justice System those conversations have turned to the poor treatment and abuse of transgender inmates and where they are placed within the system - oftentimes trans inmates are placed in prisons that don't reflect their transitioned gender, which perpetuates violence against trans bodies.
Upon questioning where gender fits in to our prison systems and how we look to the future, the question really became about whether prisons themselves reflect the type of society we want in the future - if we are abolishing binary systems of gender in 2020, should we be abolishing the prison state? After all, simply placing trans prisoners in to the correct facilities seems like merely a band-aid to the systemic violence of prisons themselves.
Predominantly, I wanted the artwork to focus on the role of prison within our society and to explore the issues of how gender as a spectrum would fit in to an archaic and profiteering model of state punishment. The handcuffs being broken by the hands of people alludes to how it will be the work of activists and people who enact change to our prison systems. The colour of the cuffs draws parallels to the restrictive nature of gender as a binary, by breaking those chains we allude not only to the abolition of prisons in favour of restorative justice but also of the restrictive codes our current society places on individuals in regards to gender expression.
It was vital during the research stage of this piece that I relied upon texts and accounts from a variety of gender expressions, particularly as an artist who is cis-gendered - in particular the documentary 'Free CeCe!' following the story of CeCe McDonald's experience of prison and the justice system as a trans inmate was useful for context.
For further reading I recommend Angela Davis' 'Are Prisons Obsolete' which was a fundamental text for me understanding the issue of the Industrial Prison Complex and its role within maintaining systems of violence within our society.
Hailing from the Fine City of Norwich, Sara Harrington is a punk rock illustrator revelling in digital and print based illustrations. Drawn to brash colour compositions, hand drawn typography and inked figures her work marries traditional and vector techniques to create a wholly contemporary style. Currently Sara creates work for a myriad of clients including independent record labels and takes her inspiration from her current radical mid-life crisis activities of surfing, skateboarding and punk music.
We had a short chat with Sara to get to know her better
What’s your creative background?
I always doodled and had a need to be creative. Since age 13 I’ve been in Punk bands so creating music and making art went hand in hand - I used to design the merch and posters for our gigs. During my art GCSE I painted a very large pink tiger, and when I finished people were very impressed with it saying that it really works. I remember how much I enjoyed the process of figuring it out, the composition elements, the light, the paint, how to draw it. That was my “aha moment” when I realised that I could do this. I no longer have that piece, it stayed in the school but I do have a tattoo of a pink tiger on my arm as a reminder of that moment of commitment.
I went on to study illustration at university, which I enjoyed but spent most of those 3 years going on tour with my band. I kept making all this work for punk bands as I always had, without realising I could actually use that for my degree. I was thinking about illustration in terms of its commercial aspects like editorials or children’s books, and a punk band poster didn’t seem like it would make the cut. It was only in my 3rd year that I realised I could marry these two worlds.
What were some of your early creative influences?
Visually I was into comic books and video games. I was really attracted to the bright colours and shapes, and it’s also how I learnt to draw - I would look at how something was drawn in a comic book and copy it. It allowed me to figure out what I liked and gave me a visual language to express myself. To this day it influences my work quite a lot., even though there is no visual similarity between that aesthetic and my work now.
How did you develop your own aesthetic?
It’s a long, winding and ever-changing road! I realised that I was able to paint realistically, and that was how I started making work. In my fine art education during GCSE and A-Level I also looked at collage and street art, trying to merge all these ideas and styles together. I think it’s only in the past year or so I started to really understand what it is that I like about the work I make. Although my work may not look like a comic book, there are definitely elements like strong lines and clashing colours that came from those influences.
Making the switch to completely digital art had a big impact too. I still do some hand painted decks, but even that is informed by how I make the work digitally. I draw something by hand in my sketchbook, maybe ink it and then scan it into Illustrator. Working with vector graphics has changed how I approach drawing because I have to think about flat colours, no shading and complete shapes. So that has been quite prominent as a visual thread.
How did you get into the hand painted skate decks and what are you doing with them now?
I knew someone who was raising money and had a lot of skate decks they wanted artists to paint on. I had just 6 hours to work on mine so without thinking too much I just drew a viking mythology inspired illustration on it. I enjoyed painting directly onto the surface,
The process was really enjoyable, it reminded me of painting at GCSE and also working directly onto the surface was great. People were really into the result, I loved the process and it married into my world quite well because there is a lot of crossover between punk and skate culture.
Now I make decks. Most people buy them to hang on their wall, but some skate on them too. I like to think about all the ways I can use them - the wood that they are made from, how I can combine carving into them with my usual aesthetic of flat bold colours. Some of my early political work that I was doing used really old beaten up skateboards as materials. You can see all the different layers of history in them - it’s kind of like street art. I’d love to do an art exhibition of them one day.
What inspires you to create?
Hmm... I think above all it’s a sense of restlessness. I can’t sit still, I always want to go and do something. It can be something I’ve read, or something I recently watched. Partaking in community and culture is a big inspiration source for me too. Learning how to skate has made me think how I could create work about it, but also having access to all the visual references that come with cultural communities.
I have a really fast metabolism of input - I’m easily inspired and then I deep dive into the topic, but I also have quite a fickle brain so I move from subject to subject easily.
We have to talk about the music too. How did you get into it and what is happening for you musically now?
I grew up playing the guitar and singing. In my early days I was the vocalist and guitarist, then 6 years ago I learnt the trumpet. It’s a bit of a weird instrument so that opened lots of doors for me - I toured Europe with a Ska band for 5 years.
I just started a new band called Petty Treason where I write songs, sing and play. Writing songs is a way of processing for me, so it’s been really nice to get back into that after a 5 year break. I’m using this lockdown moment to simmer down, plan, write and figure things out.