Strange Fruit

Donald "C-Note" Hooker

Prison Focus Issue 52
Summer 2017

Strange Fruit, is an original work of wax on paper; made in the form of a collage. Done by Cn in 2017. “When I had to do an expedited visual work for the Paintoem, Life Without the Possibility of Parole, I used an image from a magazine, but drew the background,” says Cn. “I have a push, or thirst to bring attention to women issues. That’s what Life Without the Possibility of Parole is about. Strange Fruit, is to draw attention to a report that I read in the October 2016 edition of the San Quentin News. It stated, ‘During an 18-month period in 2014-15, the suicide rate at the California Institution for Women (C.I.W.) was eight times the national average for women prisoners and five times the rate for the entire California prison system.’ When I did Life Without, there was an aesthetic there. This was from a fashion magazine. This was of a young white woman, on a very serious subject. I say to myself, ‘Hey, much support in the prisoner rights movement comes from older white women in the Catholic Church. This is an image of them. They see their younger selves in her. Promote the $#@! out of this work.’ I could have used that same racial device in Strange Fruit. Life Without The Possibility of Parole was about the aesthetics. It was about the shape of that image in the magazine. Later on, I realized how I could use race to my benefit. That device really did not go unnoticed to me when doing a work on women suicide. But I couldn’t play on white populism; I had to speak the truth. So a black woman had to be used. Blacks out number all the other races combined in incarceration. There are lots of ways of committing suicide, but I think the hanging is the most salient in our human conscious. That being the case, that brings in Strange Fruit. ‘Strange Fruit,’ is the title to a song, sung by Billie Holiday. The tener of the song is about all this strange fruit hanging from these trees in the South. What was this strange fruit? Nooses around the necks of dead African-Americans. That’s why the piece is entitled ‘Strange Fruit.’ That’s why there’s a noose around her neck. Why a collage? Because I had discovered with Life Without, collages create a certain depth perception. The poem, is a play on the CBS television show Beverly Hillbillies. ‘California/is the place to be/Fun living/is the life for me…’ In Black intelligentsia, and its grass roots also, they have really latched onto Michelle Alexander’s seminal work, ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her thesis is that 21st Century mass incarceration, and post incarceration reentry, looks very similar to 20th Century Jim Crow laws in the deep South. People generally agree with her thesis, and actively use the siren call to end the New Jim Crow. Incarcerated blacks even started the Neo Jim Crow Art movement, to which this piece is a part of. I hold up Sandra Bland as our 21st Century’s Emmett Till. Emmett Till, like Sandra Bland was a fellow Chicagoan, who took a trip down South in 1955. Emmett allegedly made a whistling sound in the general area of a white woman. He was only 14 years of age. He was bludgeon to death. His mother, from the North (Chicago), wanted an open casket burial to which a Jet Magazine photographer snapped a picture of his gruesome remains. It was the shot (photo shoot), heard around the world. Well, I’ve been holding up Sandra Bland to go with the theme of this work. What was her offense that caused her to lose her life? It started with a traffic stop; whose legitimacy is dubious at best. But an officer who physically feels the need to pull a motorist out of their car for smoking a cigarette? An activity that is associated with a high degree of stress, to which this encounter with this law enforcement obviously was. But I think anytime a person comes in contact with law enforcement, and especially an African-American with a white officer, it is very harrowing; because an African-American never knows where this thing is going. And Ms.Bland allegedly or apparently committed suicide while in a jail holding cell for a nonsensical lane change violation. The officer was fired as a result of this incident. In certain activist circles, it’s common to hear women say, ‘Prisons were not designed or intended for women

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