Skip to content
Express to
your inbox

Sign up for the High Line newsletter for the latest updates, stories, events & more.

Please enter a valid email address!
Thanks for signing up, we'll be in touch soon!

Hank Willis Thomas and Dr. Baz Dreisinger

The Writing on the Wall

October 31 – November 10, 2019

On the High Line at 14th St.

Related event: The Writing on the Wall: Take Action, November 10, 12–2pm

Tours of the installation led by Devon Simmons and Matthew Wilson will take place on Wednesday, November 6, 6pm, and Sunday, November 10, 12pm & 1pm; please RSVP here. Simmons and Wilson will also be leading conversations about the installation and their experiences throughout the week at 12pm and 6pm; walk-up visitors are welcome to listen.

The Writing on the Wall, a collaboration between Hank Willis Thomas and Dr. Baz Dreisinger with Openbox and designed by MASS Design Group, is a traveling installation composed of essays, poems, letters, stories, diagrams, and notes written by individuals in prison around the world. Emulating a prison cell, The Writing on the Wall recreates these largely unseen spaces in a public sphere. The installation’s design references the palimpsest-like writing on the walls of prison cells and layers these onto acrylic panels arranged in modules. The arrangement of the installation is based on measurements of cell blocks so that visitors can be fully immersed in the written and typed words of the incarcerated. The writings were accrued, with the authors’ permission, by Dr. Dreisinger during her years teaching in US and international prisons. As a presentation of the crisis of global criminal justice systems, these letters visually convey the narratives, thoughts, and emotions of the people behind bars.

The project was conceived by professor Dr. Dreisinger and her students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice with conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas as an effort to spread awareness and galvanize grassroots efforts toward prison reimagining and justice reform. In conjunction with the installation, the High Line will present public programming around the topic of criminal justice.

Additionally, for the duration of the installation, nightly from dusk until park close, High Line Channel will screen videos from individuals and organizations leading the fight to end mass incarceration and advocating for those in communities most impacted. Videos screened include:
Crime, Punishment and a Brazilian Supermax (2016), directed by Stephanie Black, produced by Beth Skipp and Dr. Baz Dreisinger, with cinematography by Arthur Jafa
Nightmare: A Film about the Criminalization of Poverty Across the Globe (2018), directed and produced by Dr. Baz Dreisinger and Alex Pope, provided by The Bail Project 2018 Love Letters: Mother’s Day and 2019 Love Letters: Father’s Day, produced by Ebony Underwood, Founder and CEO of We Got Us Now, initiated by Google
Tamara’s Ever After (2019), directed by Aseanté Renee and co-produced by Joseph Walters, provided by Common Justice.

As a traveling installation, The Writing on the Wall uses artistic expression as a way to connect people around the world with individuals and organizations at the forefront of justice movements through related programming including talks, performances, book launches, readings, vigils, and exhibitions. An initiative of the Incarceration Nations Network, the project has previously been exhibited in its pilot format in Detroit, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia, and other sites in New York City. The Writing on the Wall is the second project of the High Line Network Joint Art Initiative and in 2020 will travel to other Network sites, including the BeltLine in Atlanta and the Rail Park in Philadelphia.

Artist bio

Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective identity, commodity, media, and popular culture.

Dr. Baz Dreisinger is the founder of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the founder and executive director of the Incarceration Nations Network. Founded in 2018, the Incarceration Nations Network is a global network that fosters and elevates innovative justice work worldwide. Dr. Dreisinger is also the author of the acclaimed book Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World and a 2018 Global Fulbright Scholar.


Lead support for High Line Art comes from Amanda and Don Mullen. Major support for High Line Art is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston, and Charina Endowment Fund. High Line Art is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson.

Program support for The Writing on the Wall is provided by the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in partnership with the Ford Foundation.

Related Art

Various Participants

The Writing on the Wall: Take Action

Read more