U:L:O: Part II | U: Curated by Ben Gocker
June 18 - August 3, 2014
INSIDE OUT presents the work of photographer Jamel Shabazz and artist/musician Armand Schaubroeck in the upstairs gallery at INTERSTATE.
When we say something is “inside out” we mean it’s not right, it’s out of order, it isn’t how it ought to be. In the debate brewing about the prison system in America, many aspects of the culture can be said to have been identified as “inside out”: maximum sentences for non-violent crimes, disproportionate imprisonment rates of African-Americans, the reliance of small communities on prisons as employers… the list goes on and on.
The aim of this show isn’t to address all of those issues, or even to underscore any single one of these issues as an overriding theme of the work. Instead, this show seeks to bring together two very different artists who share common ground in an experience of that acutest form of social control, the prison system. For Armand Schaubroeck that means taking the harrowing experience of his incarceration and turning it into art and music; for Jamel Shabazz it means being a vigilant observer of his workplace and creating a document of that time in his life and in the live’s of all those he worked beside as a Corrections Officer. If anything, the aim then of this show is Armand and Jamel’s aim: to bring these difficult personal experiences out into the world for others to see.
From Armand Schaubroeck you will find a selection of paintings made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, each of which corresponds to a song on Schaubroeck’s triple LP concept album entitled “A Lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck… DEAD” which deals with the artist’s time spent in the maximum security Elmira Reformatory in the early 1960s on a burglary charge. In addition to these paintings from the 1970s, artifacts and ephemera from the artist’s life will also be on display as well as new work by the artist. Visitors will also have the opportunity to listen to the album in its entirety.
From Jamel Shabazz you will find a selection of work made during the photographer’s career as a Corrections Officer at Rikers Island and in the Manhattan Court Division, spanning more than two decades (1981-2003). In addition to photographs of life inside Rikers Island, a number of photographs of Shabazz’s coworkers will also be on display, as well as newsletters, drawings, and books important to the artist’s understanding of the prison system and his role in it.
JAMEL SHABAZZ was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of fifteen, Jamel picked up his first camera and started to document his peers. Inspired by photographers Leonard Freed, James Van Der Zee, and Gordon Parks, he marveled at their documentation of the African American community. In 1979, Jamel purchased a Canon AE 1 35mm camera and embarked on an extensive journey documenting various aspects of life both here and abroad, building a massive and diverse body of work. Jamel has shown his work in dozens of solo exhibitions all over the world. His work can be found in numerous collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. He has also published five monographs of his work.
ARMAND SCHAUBROECK is a musician, songwriter, poet, and painter from Rochester, New York. In 1962, at the age of 18, Schaubroeck was sentenced as a youthful offender to three years in prison at the maximum security Elmira Reformatory. His album A Lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck… DEAD is a rock opera dramatizing his time spent at Elmira. Armand Schaubroeck has recorded numerous albums under the names Kack Klick, Church Mice, and A.S.S. (Armand Schaubroeck Steals). In addition to his prison album, Schaubroeck’s other albums include I Came to Visit, but Decided to Stay, Live at the Holiday Inn, Shakin’ Shakin’, Ratfucker, I Shot my Guardian Angel, and the new 2014 God Made the Blues to Kill Me.
BEN GOCKER is an artist living in Queens, New York. He recently had his second solo show, Scaredy Cat City, at PPOW gallery this past spring. He has exhibited work at Wallspace, Ventana244, New York City, Rachel Uffner, and Pierogi's Boiler space. He is the author of the novella The Pisces (Content 2012) and chapbook WIZ (Song Cave 2011).
On putting the show together: a note from the curator
I have never been sentenced to a prison term. I have had, throughout my life, almost no direct contact with the prison system: no relatives in prison, no friends in prison, no acquaintances who have served time, so far as I know. Given my race (white) and economic background (middle-class) this lack of first hand experience with our penal system should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with the grim statistics of racialized incarceration since the 1970s (I was born in 1979). I just wasn’t a likely (I should say, targeted) candidate.
I began working for the Brooklyn Public Library 6 years ago, first at a branch in Bushwick  then at the Central Library near Prospect Park. In Bushwick, my branch was just around the corner from a halfway house. Part of my training as a new librarian dealt specifically with meeting the needs of “formerly incarcerated” populations: how to help those who have been in prison apply for jobs, set up email accounts, navigate Microsoft Word, etc. Many of the people at the halfway house had either just been released from prison, or had been in and out of the system for years. They were regulars at our branch. This was my first introduction to the very serious difficulties a prison sentence permanently places on the convicted’s ability to reenter society. Later in those first years at BPL, I also volunteered to do a day’s work of library service at Rikers Island. Trotting books out to the prisoners in their dorm-style cells and in solitary confinement remains my one time within such a facility. I’m no expert, and don’t pretend to be.
Likewise, I have never curated an art show. I hesitate to say I have ‘curated’ this show of Armand Schaubroeck’s and Jamel Shabazz’s work, though I have; it feels more appropriate to say I have ‘put together’ a show of the work of Armand Schaubroeck and Jamel Shabazz. Since becoming familiar with both of their bodies of work I’ve considered them touchstones for thinking about my own artistic practice and comportment toward a vocation in the arts. I see them both as commenters on and documenters of the world they live in but also creators of alternate, sympathetic, and imaginative worlds thereof. When I was asked to curate a show for Interstate Projects I wanted to come up with a way of showing these two artists together. Rather than thinking of putting together a show about the prison system in America, something beyond my capabilities, I instead wanted to put together a show of just Armand and Jamel: their shared -- though unique & discrete -- experiences of prison life serving as a common ground. Talking with Jamel one night at his house in Long Island he said, regarding the show, “I like it when worlds collide.” So what are these worlds?
Until I met him, I hardly believed Armand Schaubroeck was real. I saw him first on TV. Fifty years ago Armand started a guitar shop with his brothers in Rochester, New York (my hometown too) called the House of Guitars. It is, what locals call, an “institution.” Growing up I regularly encountered commercials on our local affiliates that the brothers produced and starred in; the commercials were weird, overdubbed, sped-up concoctions full of rubber masks, electric guitars, Easter Bunny get-ups, and t-shirts that read Kill Me. I was terrified. Years passed. I moved away. I wondered about Armand Schaubroeck. Trips home I’d often stop by the House of Guitars and I began discovering albums Armand himself had made over a period of 10 years or so back in the 1970s. The first album, and the one with which this show is principally concerned, is called “A Lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck… DEAD.” It is a three LP audio play (rock opera doesn’t seem quite right, but it’s close) about Armand’s time at the Elmira Reformatory, a maximum security facility for juvenile offenders. Armand was sentenced to 3 years in 1962 at the age of 18. He served a year and a half in Elmira and finished out his sentence with a year and a half of parole. In talking with him to organize this show, it’s plain to see that to this day the experience is never far from his mind and has informed nearly every one of the albums, paintings, and public interventions he has produced (he has made numerous billboards protesting war, skewering provincial conservativism, and denouncing the prison system; Armand also ran for New York state senate in 1972 as an admittedly outside-the-mainstream prison-reform candidate). The paintings in the show all correspond to songs on the album and depict the life Armand knew in prison. The paintings have been in storage for nearly 30 years, having only been exhibited a couple of times in Rochester: once at a Unitarian church, and again at the Rundel Memorial Building, Rochester Public Library’s Central Library. In addition to the paintings and the album, which people will be able to listen to, there will also be pieces of ephemera, photographs, and album art included in the show.
In the late 60s and early 70s, when Armand Schaubroeck first began working on his album “A Lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck...DEAD” the number of people imprisoned in the US was fairly low, at about one person for every thousand in the population. The period during which Jamel Shabazz was employed by the Corrections Department of New York City, however, saw a massive expansion of incarceration rates. By the time Jamel retired in 2003, about 1 out of 107 people in the adult population were imprisoned, a number never before seen in US history. This population was also disproportionately poor and African-American. Jamel was in the criminal justice system for all of that. I first met Jamel through my work in the Brooklyn Public Library’s local history division, the Brooklyn Collection. We invited Jamel to give a talk on the occasion of the 10 year anniversary, and re-issue, of his first book, Back in the Days. The photographs of Jamel’s I was most familiar with were the ones that appeared in that book, as well as another one of his publications, Seconds of My Life. They’re the images for which Jamel has become internationally known: documents of the African-American community in and around New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. Upon meeting Jamel and talking with him, what I found so remarkable was the sort of double life he led; after a day’s work as a CO he’d typically head out with his camera, chess board, and carton of orange juice (these were the tools of his trade) to photograph, listen to, and mentor the subjects of his work. It wasn’t uncommon for him to see someone he’d photographed a week before show up at Rikers or, vice-versa, reconnect with a former inmate on the outside. Jamel has never exhibited these photographs and seldom has had the occasion to bring them to print. In addition to a small selection of his thousands of photographs from this period in his life, there will also be on display the sort of collateral ephemera a career spent in Corrections creates: COBA newsletters, drawings made by those he mentored, mix tapes, and a selection of books that were, and are, important to the artist’s understanding of prison culture.