In the words of writer Mychal Denzel Smith, “Marissa Alexander was just trying to save her life” when she was assaulted and threatened (again) by her estranged husband. When she retrieved a gun and fired a warning shot in self-defense, she could not have imagined being convicted and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison. Yet we know from history that too often women who protect themselves from unrelenting violence are criminalized.
The ‘No Selves to Defend’ exhibition which ran from July through September 2014 at Art in These Times featured the stories of women of color who have been criminalized for self-defense. The exhibition examined the contested meanings and historical and contemporary understandings of self-defense. It sought to locate Marissa Alexander’s story within a broader historical context and legacy. The exhibition also addressed the campaigns and mobilizations that emerged to resist their criminalization and demand their freedom. Finally, it considered how we can support current survivors of violence who have been criminalized for self-defense.
The exhibition included original art by Micah Bazant, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, and Ariel Springfield. It also included ephemera and artifacts from Mariame Kaba’s collection.
The exhibition was organized by Project NIA, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Women and Girls, and the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander. It was co-curated by Rachel Caidor and Mariame Kaba. The exhibition was made possible by individual donors who contributed to a summer fundraiser.
Everyone who missed the exhibition or simply wants to revisit it can experience it through the following video filmed and edited by Gretchen Hasse: