Strange Fruit (Paintoem)

Strange Fruit (Paintoem)
Prison Artist

Strange Fruit is a poignant Paintoem (a blend of painting and poem) that addresses the alarmingly high rate of suicides at the California Institution for Women (C.I.W.).



is the place to be

Fun living

is the life for me

Spacious places

far and wide

Except at C.I.W.

home to women suicides

About the Paintoem

Poem by: C-Note

Painting by: C-Note

In this 2017 creation, C-Note employs a collage approach, overlaying a haunting image of a woman with a noose around her neck on a background he crafted. He reflects, “We craft visages of horror, yet recoil at the sight of our own handiwork.”

The piece’s title, Strange Fruit, resonates with Billie Holiday’s seminal song, marking the tragic history of lynching in the American South. The accompanying poem subverts the upbeat theme of the 1960s CBS show Green Acres, presenting a stark contrast to the idyllic Californian imagery, instead casting a shadow on the reality of incarceration.

Strange Fruit is a key work within the Neo Jim Crow Art movement, which critiques mass incarceration and draws connections to Michelle Alexander’s seminal work, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and the persistent shadows of Jim Crow-era discrimination.

C-Note urges the audience to face the dire outcomes of what he deems a fundamentally flawed system, emphasizing the specific risks faced by incarcerated women and the despair fostered by the prison environment. He draws parallels between Chicagoan Sandra Bland, whose custody death following a questionable traffic stop in the southern United States became a catalyst for public outcry, and the 1947 death of Chicagoan Emmett Till, also in the southern United States a symbol of racial violence and injustice.

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