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On Feb. 19, 2016, Albert Woodfox turned 69 years old. On that same day, he walked out of a Louisiana prison a free man after serving over 45 years — 43 of them in solitary confinement, which is longer than anyone else in U.S. history.

It was, as he told DemocracyNow!, "quite the birthday gift."


All images via Canvases of Courage/Vimeo.

Woodfox's case had long been the object of passionate protest and advocacy from civil and human rights groups around the world who believed that the 23 hours a day he spent in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell for over half of his life was not only inhumane but particularly unfathomable for a man whose charges were believed to be based on false evidence and politically motivated. (To learn more about his case, do some research on The Angola Three, the name given to him and two others placed in solitary confinement for the same event in 1972.)

But it wasn't just hardcore human rights activists and civil rights historians who knew Woodfox's name.

When news of the 69-year-old's release spread, thousands across the country rejoiced.



How and why did so many people know about a man incarcerated over 45 years ago?

There are probably many reasons. But an undeniable factor in the spread of one man's unjust treatment was the fact that more than once, the story of Woodfox's case, imprisonment, and resilience has been told through arguably the most universal language known to man: art.

Last December, a group of 12 visual artists gathered in New Orleans to create original works representing ongoing cases of human rights violations around the world.

The artists who participated, convened by Art for Amnesty's creative director Marvin Bing, are those who see their purpose as not only to tell stories that reflect the rich diversity of cultures and experiences that they know as artists of color. They also believe it is their responsibility to tell stories that tangibly make people's lives — and the world — better.

Woodfox's case was one of those stories.

Philadelphia artist Jesse Krimes, who himself spent a year in solitary confinement in federal prison, built a simulated cell for the installation for people to experience the size of such inhumane imprisonment. Artsit Brandan "B-Mike" Odums did just that, standing in it to "physically step inside that reality, that physical space" and bring another level of empathy to the mural tribute to Woodfox that he would be painting.

A New Orleans native, Odums ascribes to the idea that art's purpose is to speak truth.

" I can't pretend to speak my truth without trying to embody a sensitivity to the sufferings of everyday people. ... It's important that we keep saying these people's names, that we keep telling their stories so that we can't escape from the reality of what is happening. "

Woodfox's story was just the tip of the iceberg for other cases creatively rendered that day.

Artist Katie Yamasaki's work told the story of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, an El Salvadoran woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for "aggravated homicide" after suffering a still-birth at work.

Teodora, mother of an 11-year-old boy, was expecting a new baby when she started experiencing increasingly severe pain. She called emergency services, but before they arrived, she went unconscious and ultimately gave birth.

When she woke up, she was bleeding profusely and her newborn baby was dead. When police arrived, they took her to the hospital where she could get the urgent treatment she needed. But not before handcuffing and arresting her on suspicion of murder.

In El Salvador, women who miscarry or suffer a still-birth during pregnancy are routinely suspected of having had an abortion. Abortion under any circumstance is a crime, even in cases of rape, incest, or where a woman’s life is at risk.

Making the artwork even more meaningful, Yamasaki was an expectant mother herself.

Ordinarily she has a simple reason for her work as a painter: "The purpose of the art is to tell a story. And the purpose of telling a story is to tell a story that might not have been told before or tell a story that needs to be told."

But, she said, telling Teodora's story during her own pregnancy was especially emotional and poignant.

Artist Douglas Miles had a similarly personal reason for his piece on the plight of an imprisoned cartoonist.

As a Native American, Miles believes his role is very clearly "to push back against institutional racism." His work highlighted the Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar, who was imprisoned after posting tweets condemning the jailing of an opposition leader in his country.

Miles said he appreciates the powerful role that social media plays in expanding audience's access to their work which otherwise would not be seen galleries and museums. With that, and the ongoing oppression of Inidigenous peoples, in mind, he visually represented Zunar's story.


Artist Jessica "J-Hand" Strand chose to create a piece exploring the life of Saman Naseem, a 17-year-old juvenile offender who was tortured and still awaits a fair trial.

Previous activism already resulted in Saman's death sentence being stopped. But now, still imprisoned at 21 years old, he has yet to be retried.

Strand's passion for the case connects directly to her roots in New Orleans, a city known for its high levels of incarceration.

Her final work was a visually stunning depiction of not just Saman but of the impact of vision through the lens of torture and imprisonment.

Those are just four of the 12 stories immortalized that day.

From Jerome Lagarrigue's piece highlighting the story of a vicious LGBTQ hate crime in Athens, Greece, to Hebru Brantly's visual reminder that "all truths aren’t considered free" to Bayunga Kialeuka's mural challenging the unjust police regime in the Congo — each brought with it its own astounding level of "I can't believe this is happening in the year 2015. And something must be done."

Fortunately, Amnesty International provided an opportunity to do a powerful something for the over 4,500 attendees who came to watch the artists and show their support at the free event.

The day's events were connected to Amnesty International's Write for Rights, a global letter-writing campaign encouraging people all over the world to write letters in protest of these and other open human rights cases.

When curating the show, Bing knew the art's ultimate power to inspire empathy and action must be met with immediate opportunities to harness the shock, outrage, and passion for justice into something tangible and impactful.

Over 15,000 letters were written that day.

The art's inclusion in that campaign wasn't simply a creative addition to the ongoing work for justice and human rights. It brought hope that our expression, our voices can indeed make a difference.

It was a hope that for Albert Woodfox was finally realized months later when the tireless efforts of activists, lawyers, letter-writers, and, yes, also artists finally paid off.

The artists in New Orleans and the cases that they selected were featured in a beautiful short film "Canvases of Courage," directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz (Bush|Renz) and executive produced by Bing with the support of Amnesty International USA and Art for Amnesty. The film premiered in January 2016 during Golden Globes weekend and is now traveling the country. Take a look to see each of the beautiful murals in full and hear the artists also share their own story.

Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

via Dion Merrick / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.09.21


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