EXPOSED: Documenting COVID-19 in the Criminal Punishment System.

Presenter: Sharon Daniel
Registration Number: 037
Institution: University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
Abstract: In the 15th century, Venetians invented the Quarantine as a protection against the plague. In the Mid-20th century, Americans invented a criminal punishment system based on the model of quarantine in which the disproportionately poor, black or brown "offender” is treated like a pathogen to be isolated and contained. In the 21st century, COVID-19, an actual pathogen, has both exposed and intensified the brutality of that system—prisoners have been stranded in quarantine without adequate food or medication, abandoned and unseen. In the US, over 2 million people are confined in overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe environments. Prisoners cannot practice social distancing or use hand sanitizer and are regularly subjected to medical malpractice and neglect. California suspended prison visits on March 11. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and state prison systems across the country rapidly followed suit. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 infection among prisoners in the US was reported on March 21. As coronavirus lockdowns ended visits by lawyers and family members, it became increasingly difficult to know what is going on inside. In late April 2020, a prisoner at Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio—which, at that time, was the largest coronavirus hotspot in the US—wrote the following:
The social category of prisoner qualifies one as undeserving of a decent civilized life. Herein lies the cause of the profound spread of the virus throughout the institution: the collective sense of the undeservingness of prisoners. A vaccination would be nice. Proper P.P.E. would help. But the real cure for our woes is an affirmation of the inalienable entitlement to life for people in prisons and jails.
This hybrid paper/artist presentation will focus on the interactive documentary EXPOSED [], conceived in a state of "emergency," to provide a cumulative public record and evolving history of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on incarcerated people. EXPOSED, documents the spread of COVID-19, over time, inside prisons, jails, and detention centers across the US, from the perspective of prisoners and their families. Original interviews, combined with quotes, audio clips and statistics collected from a comprehensive array of online publications and broadcasts, are assembled into an interactive timeline that, on each day, offers abundant testimony to the risk and trauma prisoners experience under coronavirus quarantine. EXPOSED launched on October 30, 2020 and will continue to be updated on a weekly basis until the pandemic crisis in carceral spaces across the US is resolved. The scale of the project is intended to reflect the scale of the crisis. For July 8th alone, the timeline includes over 100 statements made by prisoners afflicted with the virus or enduring anxiety, distress, and neglect. The monochrome, image-less, headline-styled interface, which allows viewers to step through thousands of prisoners’ statements, is designed to visualize their collective suffering, signal that the injustices they endure are structural, and demonstrate that the criminal punishment system in the US, itself, constitutes a public health crisis.

Bio: Sharon Daniel is a media artist who creates interactive and participatory documentary artworks addressing issues of social, racial and environmental injustice, focusing principally on mass incarceration and the criminal legal system. Daniel develops innovative online interfaces and multi-media installations that visualize and materialize the testimonies of incarcerated people and marginalized communities. Her work has been exhibited in museums and festivals internationallymost recently: at CPH:DOX, Copenhagen (April-May 2021), in Electronic Literature Organization’s COVID E-Lit exhibition, Bergen, Norway (April 2021), in Barring Freedom, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA (Oct – May 2021), in the Museum of Capitalism, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons School of Design, NYC, NY (Oct – Dec 2019) in a solo exhibition Secret Injustices, at the Schmidt Center (US, FL, 2017), as an official selection in the Alternate Realities exhibition at Sheffield Doc|Fest (UK, 2016), and in a solo exhibition titled Convictions at STUK Kunstencentrum, (Belgium, 2013). Daniel’s works have also been shown in museums and festivals such as WRO media art biennial 2011 (Poland), Artefact 2010 (Belgium), Transmediale 08 (Germany), the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival DEAF03 (Netherlands), Ars Electronica (Austria), the Lincoln Center Festival (NY/USA), the Corcoran Biennial (Washington DC) and the University of Paris I (France). Her essays have been published in books, including Female Authorship and the Documentary Image (Oxford University Press, in press), Context Providers (Intellect Press 2011), Database Aesthetics (Minnesota University Press 2007) and the Sarai Reader05, as well as in professional journals such as Cinema Journal, Leonardo, Studies in Documentary Film and Springerin. Her writings and projects have also been published in online journals such as Stretch, Thresholds, and Vectors. Daniel was honored by the Webby Awards in 2008 and the Rockefeller/Tribeca Film Festival New Media Fellowship in 2009. In 2015-16, she was named in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts “YBCA 100”a list of “the creative minds, makers, and pioneers that are asking the questions and making the provocations that will shape the future of American culture.” She was a 2017 Fulbright Scholar at Ulster University in Art, Design and the Built Environment. Documentation of exhibitions and links to projects can be found at