Spaces From Yesterday




In Amy's Words:

Spaces From Yesterday is an exhibition series developed collaboratively between myself and incarcerated artists from San Quentin State Prison. This project includes three large-scale installations that draw on the incarcerated artists' stories about their lives before prison. The installations in this series are all abstracted recreations of the incarcerated artists's memories of specific places and are paired with their drawings, sketches and models of these places. The project serves as a platform for the artists to delve deep into their personal histories and to share these experiences and stories with a public audience. The installations are not exact recreations of past spaces but explore the experience of remembering and take the viewer to a place of memories and imagination. Viewers walk away with their own memory of the installation space and in that way carry the stories with them. In an environment where space is highly controlled, this project searches for the humanity and comfort that memories of past places can offer. Through this exhibition series, I hope to help keep these memories alive and to reveal the humanity that exists behind prison walls.

The inspiration for this project comes from my experiences working as an art teacher at San Quentin State Prison. During my time at San Quentin, I learned from incarcerated artists about the human capacity for change, the resilience of the human spirit and the innate desire for self-expression. I have also developed amazing relationships with people that I never imagined I would meet. An important part of my experience at San Quentin was listening to all the stories that people recount from their lives before prison. Decades old, these memories intertwine with imagination and stay alive in their minds as sacred ties to the outside world. After hearing so many stories, I began to ask myself, how can these stories be memorialized as art and how can we share them with the world outside? I hope that the installations will serve to share these individual and personal stories with the public and to raise awareness around the impact of mass incarceration.

Although the installations and drawings are the final artworks shared with the public, they represent only one half of the project. The other half of the project lies within the experiences of the project collaborators and in the act of story telling. Since beginning this project, I have been told by my collaborators that creating images of past places has served as a way to relive their memories. When recounting the details of a childhood home, they are transported back in time beyond the prison walls. They have uncovered memories of family vacations, private moments working alone in the garage, midnight games of chess and even ghost stories. For me, listening to these stories has been an honor. Every conversation gives me new insight into who each of these artists are as individuals and how these memories have shaped who they are now. I hope they take comfort in knowing that their memories have escaped the prison walls.



About the Artists:

Chanthon Bunis a self-taught pen and ink artist. Bun fell in love with art when he realized it could allow him to express himself in non-verbal ways. Art has served as a way for Bun to understand himself and has played a strong role in his personal transformation. At San Quentin, Bun experimented with drawing, painting and sculpture. With the help of the art teachers at San Quentin, Bun has learned to express himself through multiple mediums. Bun is a Cambodian refugee and through art explores and processes the trauma he experienced as a child. Bun was released in 2020 admist the cornavirus pandemic and under threat of ICE detention.  

Dennis Crookes is an artist that primarily works with acrylic and oil paint. Although originally a self-taught artist, he has taken classes under the direction of art teachers at San Quentin State Prison for four years. He has had his artwork displayed in over 20 galleries across California. Including Yerba Buena Center of the Arts’ Bay Area Now 2014, Tides Thoreau Center for Sustainability in 2015, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in 2014, The Compound Gallery in 2014, Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in 2015, Alcatraz in 2013, and the San Francisco Library in 2013. In 2014, Dennis won an award for one of his linocuts, "Finding Out". He was a presenter at Open Engagement 2016 at the Oakland Museum of California. Dennis continues to paint and create and he resides in Los Angeles.

Bobby Dean Evans Jr. works in mixed media and origami. Evans’ work was included in an exhibition at the Tides Thoreau Center's China Brotsky Gallery in 2015 and is currently on permanent view at the Tides Thoreau Center. While at San Quentin State Prison, he founded a GED prep program and graduated as valedictorian of his class at Patten University’s Prison University Project. Evans is a contributor to “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline”, published by the Harvard Editorial Review. He was born in Pontiac, MI and grew up in Winton, CA. Evans is currently serving a sentence of 25 to life at Solano State Prison.

Amy M. Ho builds video and spatial installations that bring attention to our existence as both physical and psychological beings. Amy completed her undergraduate degree in Art Practice at University of California, Berkeley and her MFA at Mills College in Oakland, CA. She was selected as a KQED Woman to Watch in 2017, received a Zellerbach Family Foundation Community Arts Grant in 2016 and a San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artists Grant in 2013. Amy was included in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Bay Area Now 7 in 2014 and was a 2013 fellowship artist at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA.  She has previously exhibited at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, CA, the Walter and McBean Galleries at the San Francisco Art Institute, the Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmhurst, IL, and at the San Diego State University Downtown Art Gallery. Amy is an acting trustee at OUTPOST in Norwich, UK.



Art Slant
East Bay Express
Pacific Magazine
The Daily Aztec
The San Diego Union Tribune

This project is supported by: Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, The William James Association, The Zellerbach Family Foundation and Oakland Stock