Sharon Daniel

Sharon Daniel (lives in San Francisco) creates interactive documentary artworks addressing issues of social, racial, and environmental injustice. Her works focusing on mass incarceration and the criminal justice system often feature the American flag. In Daniel’s artworks, the flag is a symbol of nationalism and nostalgia which obscures the real history of the U.S. and the continued effects of its unreconciled origins in genocide and slavery.

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Undoing Time/PLEDGE, 2013

Image of installation with two U.S. flags and a video
Undoing Time/PLEDGE, 2013
Mixed-media installation with video
Video: 8:36 minutes
Courtesy of the artist

Undoing Time/ PLEDGE features Beverly Henry, who was formerly imprisoned at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. During her incarceration, Henry had the job of producing American flags for sixty-five cents an hour. As Henry slowly undoes the stitches of one of these flags, she describes the obstacles to equality and democracy she has encountered because she is Black, socio-economically marginalized, a lesbian, and HIV positive . Accompanying the video are two flags purchased from the prison factory. These flags are embroidered with the text Henry wrote in 2006 on the 254th anniversary of Betsy Ross’s birth about the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that the U.S flag purportedly represents.

Excessive Force

Image of installation with three embroidered U.S. Flags
Undoing Time/Amends/Excessive Force, 2020
Embroidered American flag
Courtesy of the artist

The US flag used for Undoing Time/Amends/Excessive Force was made by people incarcerated in California. Sharon Daniel has embroidered it with two contradictory texts: the Fourth Amendment, protecting against “unreasonable search and seizures,” and a Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of “stop and frisk” police practices. The fifty stars on the flag each bears the name, age, location, and date of death of an unarmed Black man or woman murdered by police. The flag is hung upside down as a signal of distress. Daniel says: “I think of the flag as a kind of mask and a veil. It screens out the view of the real history of our country in terms of its origins in genocide and slavery.”

EXPOSED, 2020

black screen of a website with white text saying 'no medical at this institution'.
Exposed, 2020
Online Digital Project

EXPOSED is an online artwork which documents the spread of COVID-19, over time, inside prisons, jails, and detention centers across the US, from the perspective of incarcerated people, their communities, and facility staff. The quotes, audio interviews, and statistics included in the piece are excerpted from online publications and broadcasts. Each excerpt is displayed with a link to its original source. Those incarcerated cannot practice social distancing or use hand sanitizer, and are caged in overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe environments. The system has always subjected prisoners to medical malpractice and neglect but now, COVID-19 exponentially increases the precariousness of their imprisonment. EXPOSED serves as a public record, and evolving social history, of the pandemic's impact on incarcerated people, revealing the all-too-usual cruelty of a system based, not on justice, but on control and disappearance – on quarantine. View at https://www.unjustlyexposed.com.

Keywords

Portrait of Sharon Daniel

Sharon Daniel’s work has been exhibited in museums and festivals internationally - most recently: in Take Action: For Freedoms at California College of the Arts (US, CA 2018); in a solo exhibition Secret Injustices, at the Schmidt Center Gallery (US, FL, 2017); as an official selection in the Alternate Realities exhibition at Sheffield Doc|Fest (UK, 2016); and in a solo exhibition titled Convictions at STUK Kunstencentrum, (Belgium, 2013). Daniel’s works have also been shown in museums and festivals such as WRO Media Art Biennial 2011 (Poland), Artefact 2010 (Belgium), Transmediale 08 (Germany), the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival DEAF03 (Netherlands), Ars Electronica (Austria), the Lincoln Center Festival (NY/USA), the Corcoran Biennial (Washington DC) and the University of Paris I (France). Her essays have been published in books, including Female Authorship and the Documentary Image (Oxford University Press, 2018), Context Providers (Intellect Press 2011), Database Aesthetics (Minnesota University Press 2007) and Sarai Reader05, as well as in professional journals such ASAP Journal, Cinema Journal, Leonardo, Studies in Documentary Film, and Springerin. Her writings and projects have also been published in online journals such as Stretch, Thresholds and Vectors. Daniel was honored by the Webby Awards in 2008 and the Rockefeller/Tribeca Film Festival New Media Fellowship in 2009. In 2015-16 she was named in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts “YBCA 100” – a list of “the creative minds, makers, and pioneers that are asking the questions and making the provocations that will shape the future of American culture”. In 2017, she was a Fulbright Scholar at Ulster University in Art, Design and the Built Environment. Documentation of exhibitions and links to projects can be found at http://sharondaniel.net. Daniel is a Professor in the Film and Digital Media Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Suggested Reading

  1. Alexander, Michelle. 2012. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press.
  2. Daniel, Sharon. “Public Secrets/Secret Publics.” Springerin Magazine, no. 2 (2008).
  3. Daniel, Sharon. “The Blindness of Whiteness and the Labour of the Negative.” Kunstlicht, Radical Imaginings: Art Practices of/for Justice 40, no. 1–2 (2019): 18–30.