Our job is to ask the questions that the audience is thinking so that we can all connect with what the artist is thinking.

-Lauren Schell Dickens, Chief Curator San Jose Museum of Art

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The current San José Museum of Art Exhibition, Seeing through Stone, is on view through Sunday, January 5, 2025.

The stories told by museums hold profound implications for how society understands history and power dynamics. San José Museum of Art Chief Curator Lauren Schell Dickens has partnered with The Institute of the Arts and Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos to curate the museum’s current exhibition, “Seeing through Stone,” part of their ongoing Visualizing Abolition series. At the heart of this project lies a critical examination of the agency wielded by artists, activists, and institutions in imagining a world without prisons.

Seeing Through Stone challenges dominant narratives surrounding incarceration and stands as a testament to the power of art in confronting societal injustices. Featuring the works of 80 artists, It delves into themes of prison abolition, offering a platform for marginalized voices and a vision for creating a world beyond prison walls. Through poignant imagery and evocative installations, artists provoke viewers to confront the harsh realities of the prison-industrial complex while envisioning a world free from the constraints of incarceration. By centering the experiences of system-impacted individuals and their allies, the exhibition aims to spark dialogue and catalyze action toward dismantling oppressive systems.

Visualizing Abolition extends beyond the confines of the museum walls by fostering networks between abolition activists and artists. Through public programs and engagements, they seek to deepen community involvement and amplify the voices of those affected by incarceration.

Lauren Schell Dickens, most recently featured in Content Magazine Issue 15.4, “Profiles,” was born in the South Bay and raised in Sonoma County. She received a BA in American Studies from Yale University and an MA in Modern Art History, Critical Studies from Columbia University in New York. Her original interest in lighting design for theater arts set the stage for her interest in the work required when sharing an artist’s work. As a curator, Lauren weaves together the voices of artists, creating narratives that hopefully have a transformational effect on viewers.

In this conversation, we discuss Lauren’s Journey to becoming a curator, the transformative potential of art in fostering collective imagination and social change, the importance of artists in challenging normative representations of prisons, and specific installations that guests should look out for.

Join The San José Museum of Art on Friday, June 21, for live musical performances that will activate the artworks in SJMA’s exhibition “Seeing Through Stone” in collaboration with the City of San José’s Make Music Day Celebrations. Acclaimed composer and theorist James Gordon Williams, assistant professor of music at UC Santa Cruz, will perform an improvisational piece using a sculpture by interdisciplinary artist Maria Gaspar made of iron bars from the Cook County Department of Corrections, the largest single-site jail in the US. Experimental composer and visual artist Guillermo Galindo will perform a piece on his artwork, Llantambores, an instrument made of materials found at the US-Mexico border.

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