What if corporate executives whose companies wrecked the environment and economy actually ended up serving prison time?
Two New York-based artists decided to pose that question by asking prisoners convicted of murder and theft to paint the CEOs of some the biggest and most powerful companies in the world, from Goldman Sachs to Walmart.
The result is “The Captured Project,” a series of artworks published on a website and in a book. The profits are being donated to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
Beneath each drawing or painting, the creators of the project included the accusations they levied against the CEO’s company, and information about the inmate-artist, including the reason for their conviction.
The artists behind the project, Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider, accuse Goldman Sachs of a range of misbehavior, from mass deception to obstructing Congress. The man who painted CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Ryan Cragg, is serving 15 years in Texas for murder.
“The prisoners were shocked by the amount of leniency granted to the [CEOs and the companies],” Greenspan told Quartz.
“Corporations frequently commit crimes any average person would be imprisoned for. These corporate crimes devastate our environment, economy and society, yet the companies committing them often get away with only paying a settlement,” Greenspan and Tider write.
The pair was also behind the “Snowden Bust,” a sculpture of the NSA whistleblower that they illicitly mounted on a war monument in New York last year.
The CEOs (both current and former) were chosen “based upon the leadership of companies with the longest and/or most egregious histories of crimes against the environment, economy, and society.” The artists were chosen for their skill level, but also for their crimes which were judged to be “similar” to the corporations’ alleged transgressions.
The project shows a sharp contrast between two worlds: the global corporate establishment and incarcerated America. “There are two sets of untouchables,” Tider said. One set is the CEOs, who are seen as “untouchable” because “when you’re making the rules it’s really hard to break the rules.” On the other hand you have the prisoners, “untouchable” because of the stigma attached to incarceration, even after being released.
Tider and Greenspan aimed to show that inmates “as more than one-dimensional criminals and remind them a prisoner is also a person,” the artists said in their statement, but also to remind viewers that “a corporation is not a person.”
They found the artists through Facebook prison art communities, and eBay, where inmates sell their work. All of the inmates were payed $100. In addition to the payment, the project was a form of sometimes rare outside contact for the prisoners. One letter thanked them for “the first honest money I’ve made in my life.” Another said: “I really can’t even begin to explain the inner emotion that it triggered in my damn near empty soul.”
Tider and Greenspan initially wanted to donate proceeds from the project to a corporate watchdog organization, but they ultimately changed their minds.
“Look what Bernie is talking about, he’s talking about reforming the criminal justice system, making corporations accountable for their actions,”Greenspan said. “So we thought that’s more powerful than any watchdog group.”
Proceeds from the project is going to the Sanders campaign through maximum personal donations from everyone involved in the project. Anything in excess will go toward other initiatives supporting the Vermont senator.