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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Myuran Sukumaran's death-row paintings come to Bendigo

Ben Quilty with Myuran Sukumaran's paintings.  Photo: Daniel Boud
The portrait of Indonesian President Joko Widodo faces the wall; its outline, lit from behind, frames the artist's signature and a simple inscription: "People can change."

Myuran Sukumaran was executed on April 29, 2015, for attempting to smuggle drugs out of Indonesia. But his message remains very much alive.

The anguish, guilt, regret and horror of living with a death sentence in a foreign prison is laid bare in an exhibition of more than 100 of Sukumaran's paintings which comes to Victoria for the 1st time this week.

"[The exhibition] brings up a lot of memories," says Archibald Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty, who taught Sukumaran to paint while on death row. "But it's a positive memory, really, of how much the work meant to Myuran and how much he hoped that people would see his work and continue to talk about the senselessness of the death penalty.

"We discussed that in depth and I promised to do my best get it out there ... I've posted the [exhibition] catalogue around the world to different leaders who I thought needed to see it. They don't respond. I sent one to [President] Jokowi."

The context in which Sukumaran's art was produced is a visceral thread throughout the exhibition, which premiered last year at Campbelltown Arts Centre as part of Sydney Festival. Many of the works contain overt references to their creator's imprisonment and impending execution.

"I can't think of a more powerful anti-death penalty image made in the history of humankind," says Quilty. But, he argues, the works hold their own.

"I think I probably underestimated how good the work was. It wasn't until I opened the crates [of paintings] in my studio that I realised the possibility of how big a show this could be.

"People were saying [Sukumaran's interest in painting] was made up to try and gain sympathy, to try save his own life. It's such a load of crap. You can see in the exhibition how much work he did and how he was obsessed with his own art practice, like I am obsessed with my own art practice."

Quilty's influence is apparent Sukumaran's paintings. But Campbelltown Arts Centre director Michael Dagostino, who co-curated the exhibition with Quilty, says Sukumaran was clearly beginning to establish his own style in the last 6 months of his life. The pieces produced in his final hours - as he painted all through the night - are the most powerful.

"About 20 works were painted in his last 72 hours, the majority of them self-portraits," says Dagostino. "It's kind of weird, [this selection] doesn't feel rushed, it doesn't feel unfinished. They are quite settled as paintings and there is a real sadness to them, because he's always looking back at you."

The exhibition also features works from other artists responding to Sukumaran's story, including Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Megan Cope, Jagath Dheerasekara, Khaled Sabsabi and Matthew Sleeth.

Myuran Sukumaran: Another Day in Paradise is at Bendigo Art Gallery from Saturday until September 16.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Hannah Francis, July 4, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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