Jesse Hazelip “Mark of Cain” : Must-See Show, Through Nov 22

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November 4 is mid-term election day, and in the United States, over 5.85 million citizens are denied the right to vote because they have felony convictions. The majority of these disenfranchised voters are people of color. A felony conviction is a “mark of Cain” — something that follows you forever, shrinking your chances of getting a job, enhancing your chances of going back to prison, preventing you from voting, form participating in society as a whole. The United States has the world’s largest prison population, with just under one quarter of the world’s imprisoned here.  The majority of these prisoners are young men of color, and as of 2012, one out of every 35 adults in the United States was behind bars, or being monitored via probation and parole.

And that’s why Jesse Hazelip’s “Mark of Cain” at Known Gallery  through November 22 is a must-see show.  Hazelip’s first solo Los Angeles exhibition addresses issues surrounding the United States’ increasingly privatized prison system with powerful imagery. Using wheat paste, graffiti, scrimshaw, mixed-media paintings on wood salvaged from an abandoned prison, and exquisite fine art techniques, Hazelip creates complex symbols using animals and skeletons:

The bull with butcher markings emphasizes the systemized labor practices and division of value. The wolf relates to a pack mentality created through incarceration subcultures, as individual prisoners align with hierarchical groups or gangs for protection and survival. The vulture, a predator who preys on the disadvantaged, symbolizes the prison system as a whole. The snake refers to the violence created by the penal system that is specific to prison. The skeletal hands are representational of the death and reach of the violence nurtured in the prison-industrial complex.

For the “Mark of Cain” opening, Hazelip created a giant mural of skeletal hands and designed a site specific performance in a 6’x9′ box built from fluorescent lights, replicating a solitary confinement cell. For his performance, Hazelip was tattooed on his face by Huero of  Heuro Tattoos. A facial tattoo is one of the strongest statements a person can get–it sets you further outside of society than anything else–except a felony conviction.  The tattoo was done as visible protest again prison conditions and human rights violations in U.S. prisons.

As part of the opening night’s events, Hazelip had Prayers play–an appropriate choice because Prayer’s lead singer Rafael Reyes is a two strike offender, and his music deals with the harsh urban realities than can lead to incarceration. While Reyes credits his time in jail with changing his life for the better, not many felons have his options and opportunities. He used his time in jail to write a book, and when he got out, he began to focus completely on his art and music (Full disclosure: Reyes was curated into my first show, “Two Johns and a Whore” and into the Cartwheel Art Dark Progressivism show at San Diego Art Expo, where he also did a book signing).  To show the possibilities of creativity as a means for change, Reyes has  donated his CDs, books, and album downloads to Homeboy Industries for Homeboy high school prom gift bags.

“Mark of Cain” is profound and beautiful show, shedding light on one of the darkest aspects of the United States and lifting protests/social justice into the realm of fine art. Hazelip’s work is beautiful, moving and strong, with a message that resonates through all levels of society, opening our  eyes to injustices in our justice system, which begins incarcerating young people as early as age 13, though the cost of educating and restructuring their lives for the better actually costs less than imprisoning them.

Please see this show, and please think about donating to to local groups like Homeboy Industries which provides work, education, and social programs for at risk youth and formerly incarcerated men and women; and UpRising Yoga which provides yoga classes for youth offenders in juvenile custody and sexually trafficked children under the jurisdiction of the Probation Department.

Top and first two photos below: Instagram @jessehazelip; Prayers photo, Chris Replicanti; Travis Barker photo via Prayers; all others, Lisa Derrick.

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And a special surprise: Travis Barker from Blink 182 and his family showed up for the opening.