Art for Change

A Lewis Cunningham describes himself as the visionary half of his artwork.  He receives messages and images from beyond (sometimes while driving along the Westside Highway in NYC), and then finds artists to put paint to canvas and bring those images to life.  I came across this piece of his at the 2013 Arts to End Violence tent at the Kingston Avenue Street Fair in NYC, and I believe its essence has been with me on a cellular level ever since.  Powerful art will do that to you. A little over a year later, I sat down to chat with him about the what’s-what and who’s-who of this poignant work.

The guard in the painting is Miss Clara, and the prisoner is Tatiana.  Tatiana is facing 20 to life for murder.  She is eight months pregnant.  Miss Clara lives with her violent and abusive husband and, as A Lewis said, “Although she’s free to go home at night, she is still imprisoned.”  When I told A Lewis I wanted to interview him about this piece, he was shocked.  “That one?!  I thought everyone hated that one,he told me, smiling in disbelief.  Turns out, for some, this piece is too dark. It hits too close to home.  The depth of pain experienced by those who have navigated the incarceration-parent-child-family-loss paradigm runs deep and oftentimes unhealed.  However, A’s message here is one of profound and authentic compassion; it is a bold statement about the collective human experience of suffering and surviving.  “It’s about womanhood,” he told me.  “Tatiana’s belly has life.  Although she has been broken and beaten, she is powerful because she holds creation. She has inner peace.  Miss Clara needs healing,  so she sneaks down to Tatiana’s cell at night, and Tatiana puts her hands on her belly, and the energy reverberates out.” 

A Lewis prefers to use art to effect change because of its quiet scream. “With art, you don’t have to march or shoot a gun.  Images can bring radical change, and it resonates in a different way than reading the NY Times. Painters should start a revolution.”  He hopes that the images he creates not only tell a story, but can help people raise their levels of awareness about social justice movements.  He fantasizes of creating postcards of Miss Clara and Tatiana and sending them out to correctional facilities nationwide.  “I’m sure - just sure that somewhere right now, this exact scene is happening.  But no one talks about it.  The guards are just as hurt as the inmates. We are all in need of healing.”


Want to help A Lewis spread his message? Get in contact! alcunningham815 [at] gmail [dot] com

A Lewis Cunningham

Caitlin Gibb


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Monthly Feature

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People's Movement Western Regional Conference

Convened by All of Us or None & Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Sunday, September 20th & Monday, September 21st

Formerly incarcerated and convicted people, family members, community and spiritual leaders, elected officials and government employees will all come together to strengthen our relationships and work towards making change through community empowerment. We invite you to Voice your opinion, learn your rights and learn what changes we can make together. All of Us or None Contact: (415)-255-7036 ext. 337