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As an artist, Amy Elkins interested in the complex nature of gender as well as the psychological and sociological impacts of mass incarceration in America. Elkins has been researching and creating work on these topics since 2005, the year a close family member was sent to a federal prison in California. Elkins approach is series-based, steeped in research and oscillates between formal, conceptual and documentary.

For the site-specific installations, Holding Pattern and Motherless Child, Elkins utilized countless catalog images of prison uniforms to examine the dizzying and dehumanizing effects of binge incarceration in a nation that on any given day holds over two million people in state, federal and private prisons while generating over $1 billion annually selling products and services created behind bars. Using prison uniforms originally designed to classify, flatten and strip individuality, ironically often made through prison labor programs, Elkins created intricate patterns and text pieces that wallpaper the dimensions of the average prison cell, animations that move in calculated synchronicity on transparent televisions and portraits that intentionally obscure facial features. Through this process, Elkins sought to better understand the ways in which carceral spaces produce what Foucault termed ‘docile bodies’ through twenty-four hour control and surveillance over the uniformed men, women and children entering these systems.

When the current Shelter-in-Place Orders went into effect in March of 2020 Elkins was forced to abandon long-planned portrait shoots, travel and work in progress in their art studio. I found myself quarantined alone in a 340-sq-ft apartment on a mostly abandoned campus. With very few resources available and human contact nearly impossible, Elkins created a daily cyanotype self-portraits as a means of documenting the passing of time while confronting the vulnerabilities, anxieties, and complexities of being in indefinite isolation during a global pandemic. Elkins working title for this ongoing series (170+ days and counting) is Anxious Pleasures.

To learn more about Amy’s work please visit their website and Instagram
View the exhibition catalogue

Kevin B. Chen

With more than $1.5 billion in assets, the San Francisco Foundation is one of the largest community foundations in the country. The foundation is committed to expanding opportunity and ensuring a more equitable future for all in the Bay Area. Together with its donors, the foundation distributed $154 million to nonprofit organizations last fiscal year. The San Francisco Foundation serves Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties.

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