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01 Nov 22

“Prison art practices resist the isolation, exploitation, and dehumanization of carceral facilities,” writes art historian Nicole R. Fleetwood. Artwork made by prisoners allows us to understand the complicated consequences of imprisonment that go far beyond the loss of freedom of mobility. In this talk, Ying Zhang explores this idea in a pre-modern Chinese context—jailed officials in Ming China (1368-1644)—to examine the relationship between imprisonment and religious freedom. Because religion in China during this period was deeply embedded in everyday domestic and social life, Ming prisoners’ artistic works reveal how physical incarceration forced them to adapt their religious practices. Their creativity demonstrates the depths of human resilience in the face of profound spiritual deprivation. Such resilience, however, also exposes the limits of the modern concept of “religious freedom” in a carceral environment.

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