DIGEST at the MSU Broad Museum in East Lansing, Michigan
DIGEST is an interactive, suspended sculpture inspired by the life and experience of co-creator Keith LaMar, who has spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement on death row in Ohio for a crime he didn’t commit. Keith is scheduled to be executed by the state of Ohio on November 16, 2023.
An interdisciplinary collaboration between pianist and composer Albert Marques, his wife, sculptor Mia Pearlman, and poet and author Keith LaMar, DIGEST is currently on view at the MSU Broad Art Museum until July 9, 2023.
This interactive, monumental sculpture grows out of Keith’s metaphor for the prison industrial complex as a digestive system designed to consume and break people down. In fact, DIGEST is larger than the cell where Keith has been trapped for three decades.
The sculpture evokes a brick building crushing its contents and itself in the process. Faceted with metal wire mesh, zip tie handcuffs, prison blankets, and prison uniforms from the Ohio State Penitentiary, DIGEST acts as a musical instrument played by the motion of viewers’ bodies: as visitors move around the work, they trigger videos of Keith performing original poetry about his personal evolution over three decades in solitary confinement and audio of Albert’s piano composition in 5 separate tracks.
DIGEST was born from a deep and personal friendship. Together with activists from the Justice For Keith LaMar organization, we continue to help create opportunities for Keith to tell his own story through art, music, film, books, podcasts, press, and more.
On November 16, 2023, the State of Ohio plans to execute Keith LaMar despite no physical evidence linking him to a crime. He continues to fight for a new trial to defend his innocence in court. Whatever happens to Keith, DIGEST will continue to create awareness of his case and the plight of so many trapped in his situation.
Mia Pearlman has exhibited internationally in numerous galleries, non-profit spaces and museums, including the Museum of Arts and Design (NYC), Goyang Aram Gallery (South Korea), Smack Mellon (Brooklyn, NY), the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Manchester Art Gallery (UK).
Pearlman is also a founder and co-leader of True Blue NY, a progressive grassroots organization that in 2018 was instrumental in defeating the IDC, a breakaway conference of 8 NY state senators who blocked progressive legislation in every area by giving Republicans control of the state senate. TBNY helped drive many groundbreaking legislative wins in 2019 and 2020. As a result of this work, activists from Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) were able to pass the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), limiting the use of solitary confinement to no more than 15 days.
Permanent commissions include large scale, site specific sculptures for Liberty Mutual's headquarters in Boston, the 80th Street A Train station for the MTA in Queens, New York, MGM Springfield in Springfield, MA, and Zhongshan Huafa Plaza in China, as well as paper installations and sculptures for Leon Max (London) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (NY).
Her work has been featured in over 25 books on contemporary art, and in both international and domestic press, including The New York Times, New York Magazine, The New York Post, and The Boston Globe. Pearlman has also appeared on PBS Thirteen’s SundayArts, the Smithsonian Channel, Spain’s TV3, and NY1
Pearlman has participated in several residency programs and has been the recipient of many grants, including a 2011 Artist Grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the 2011 Robert Sterling Clark Visual Arts Space Award, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2008), a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant (2008) and an Established Artist Fellowship from UrbanGlass (2009).
Pearlman lives and works in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and collaborator, Catalan pianist Albert Marques, and their two children.
Keith LaMar is a writer, artist, and activist who has spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement on death row in Ohio for a crime he didn’t commit. On November 16, 2023, Ohio intends to execute him. LaMar has fought for decades to defend his innocence and his life.
LaMar was sentenced to death in the aftermath of the 11-day 1993 Lucasville Prison Uprising, when the State of Ohio found themselves under public pressure to clean up the multi-million dollar mess. The State Highway Patrol had contaminated all the evidence by trampling through the crime scene, and thus prosecutors developed a strategy to reward jailhouse informants to implicate LaMar for the deaths of fellow inmates. To secure his conviction, they withheld the statements that would have proven his innocence, including confessions from the actual perpetrators. LaMar's trial took place in a remote Ohio community with an all-white jury, who swiftly sentenced him to death.
He regularly speaks to classes at high schools and universities around the country about the prison industrial complex, and leads multiple book clubs with high school students. LaMar’s non-profit, Native Sons, distributes books to at-risk youth. His podcast Pieces of A Man with musician Brian Jackson can be heard on Spotify and other platforms.
LaMar is the author of Condemned, which recounts the story of the Lucasville Prison uprising and his decades-long struggle to defend his innocence, and a forthcoming autobiography. His essays have been published in Mother Jones and The San Francisco Bay View.
Background image: detail of DIGEST