By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– Ise Lyfe, artist and curator of “smallasaGIANT,” said that it was odd for him to call the exhibit “mine.”
“It’s really the story of so many powerful and amazing folks that I was honored to have been able to talk to and share with,” he said at the opening reception for the exhibit at the Cal State San Bernardino Anthropology Museum on April 18.
And four of the subjects featured in the exhibit, which sheds light on a criminal justice system that tried and incarcerated juveniles as adults, shared their stories with those attending the formal opening of “smallasaGIANT,” describing from what it was like serving time as a teen to being released on parole and adjusting to a world that had changed so much during their long incarceration.
CSUSB’s Anthropology Museum is the first stop for “smallasaGIANT,” a multi-media display of photos and other media that explores the lives and journeys of people who were sentenced to prison for 20 or more years before they turned 18. It will be on display at the university’s museum through June 15 before touring other parts of California in the coming year.
Ariana Huhn, director of the museum and assistant professor of anthropology, said the new exhibit was part of the ongoing effort to make the museum’s exhibits more relevant to the community.
Rafik Mohamed, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, home of the museum, echoed that. He said Huhn has made the museum more “community-involved and community-focused, and social justice-oriented. I think this exhibit is a wonderful example of that.”
A handout sheet at the exhibit that was a call to action said, “Between 2007 and 2016, for every white child (14 to 15 years old), there were 4.5 (percent) Latino children, and 11.6 (percent) Black children who were prosecuted and sentenced as adults. Additionally, 72 percent of the children who were tried as adults were tried for non-homicide cases, and of those involved in homicide cases, the research shows the majority of them were not the primary actors and were likely to have had adult co-defendants.”
Lyfe, in his artist statement, said, “What is most apparent to me is the increasing normalization of youth incarceration. Law enforcement, schools, and even families, have come to an attitude of just expecting that a fraction of their community, students or children, will go to prison – and possibly for a very long time. On a social services level, it is a gross step beyond expecting into the realm of anticipating young people being sentenced to prison.
“Children being put behind bars is not a normal thing,” Lyfe wrote. “Even more abnormal is the concept of our society accepting it as normal.”
So to put faces behind the numbers, Lyfe focused on the stories of those who were juveniles at the time of their sentencing and incarcerated as adults. Many served 20 or more years in state prison.
One of those featured in the exhibit and sharing her story at the opening was Cirese LaBerge, who was 18 when she was sentenced to 15 years to life, and was incarcerated for a little more than 20 years. She was paroled on March 6, 2015, and has one more year left on her five-year parole term.
“I spent more of my life inside prison than I spent outside of prison,” LaBerge said. “I am fortunate and privileged today. I get to be in traffic. I remember (while incarcerated) that I just wanted traffic. I remember when other people’s problems were my dreams. I remember the people who I left behind (in prison), who were younger than me and serving more time.”
So she now advocates for them. “It is beyond important. It is soul work. Why? Because I was worth it then. And they are worth it now.”
As the exhibit’s websiteexplains, “The core purpose of the entire project is to create a tangible tool and glaring statement through conceptual art that can be used to influence and empower voters, communities, politicians, and stakeholders to change the attitude, policies, and laws that fuel one of America’s most tragic and grotesque appendages: Locking children in prison for their entire lives.”
As part of “smallasaGIANT,” Lyfe and the Anthropology Museum have put out a call to the university and the off-campus community to develop programs that would tie in with the exhibit, which aims to raise awareness of the issues related to incarcerating juveniles. The next event tied in to the exhibit will be “Inside/Out: Reflections from a Formerly Incarcerated Prison Educator,” on May 16, at 4 p.m., in the John M. Pfau Library, room PL-5005.
The exhibition is also available to serve as a venue for hosting events to support community organizations, and the museum will arrange extended hours to accommodate group tours and meet-ups.
For more information and to reserve the exhibition for your event, contact Arianna Huhn, director of the Anthropology Museum, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (909) 537-5505.
About Ise Lyfe
The exhibit’s creator, Ise Lyfe, is an award-winning conceptual artist, justice advocate, author, spoken word artist and actor from Oakland, Calif. Among his larger conceptual art projects was “Brighter That Blight,” a 2013 effort in which he transformed a blighted, condemned housing project in Oakland into a life-sized exhibition and artistic narrative on housing as a human right. News media took interest in the work – watch two reports at “Ise Lyfe on Channel 2 KTVU talks about Oakland’s Brighter than Blight,” and “Artist creates exhibit in the midst of Public Housing Demolition.”
He has also served as a commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the city of Oakland, and in 2016, Lyfe helped launch the city’s Department of Race and Equity. In 2012, Lyfe’s hometown declared his birthday, Dec. 28, as “Ise Lyfe Day.”
Visit his website for more information.
About the Anthropology Museum
The CSUSB Anthropology Museum was founded in 2000. Located within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences building at Cal State San Bernardino, the breathtaking gallery space provides expansive views of the surrounding San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains.
The mission of the Anthropology Museum is to serve as a teaching laboratory for Museum Studies Certificate students, who gain hands-on experience in collections management, exhibition planning, curation and museum administration. The museum additionally provides space for the presentation of exhibitions that illustrate and interrogate the cultural contexts and meanings of community histories, events, identities and behaviors — locally, across the world and over time — and other anthropological perspectives on topics of interest.
The museum is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday. Guided tours and weekend visits can be arranged with advanced notice by contacting the museum director at (909) 537-5505. Admission is free; parking at CSUSB is $6.
Visit the Anthropology Museum website for more information.