Mark Loughney, Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration, 2014-present
Mark Loughney is currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania, where he creates this ongoing portrait series depicting mass incarceration from the site of captivity. The artist approaches portraiture as a performance marking penal time; he draws people on whatever paper he can acquire, for twenty minutes each. Arranging sittings inside prison is difficult, requiring Loughney to improvise in moments of relative calm in an otherwise chaotic environment. Currently and formerly incarcerated artists have reinvigorated portraiture as a representational strategy to reflect on the massive toll that incarceration takes on the most marginalized groups while rendering them invisible in public life. Loughney states, “The irony is that 500 faces is not even a drop in the bucket of our 2.4 million brothers, mothers, sisters, and fathers that are locked away in prisons in our country.”
The title of the series references Jeffrey Reiman and Paul Leighton’s theory of pyrrhic defeat, which examines how the wealthy and powerful benefit from the idea of crime and criminalization of certain people.
Because it was important to the artist that all 703 drawings be represented as a group, this installation includes scaled down copies of the original drawings. Featured here are some of Loughney’s most recent portraits, made during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many imprisoned people, the artist has been in lockdown, the equivalent of solitary confinement, as a result of prison administrators’ attempts to curtail the spread of the virus in carceral facilities.
This presentation is organized by Nicole Fleetwood, James Weldon Johnson Professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and Donna Gustafson, Interim Director and Curator of American Art, Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers.