According to American photographer John Sevigny
, Ilopango Prison for Women
in El Salvador
feels more like a "locked-down high school than a penitentiary." Not that Sevigny wasn't closely followed every step of his visit by guards, or that the mood of the place wasn't crushing. It's that the women there can wear their street clothes and make-up. That most of them are between 19 and 25 years old.
The women of Ilopango are, for the most part, victims of "structural violence," or what sociologist and mathematician Johan Galtung described
as collateral of "the increased rates of death and disability suffered by those who occupy the bottom rungs of society, as contrasted with the relatively lower death rates experienced by those who are above them." Many of these women are incarcerated for charges like extortion or armed robbery, but many more are facing sentences of 80 years because they refused to testify against their husbands and boyfriends, many of whom are gang members, who committed crimes like murder.
Rather than face the wrath of the gangs — which could mean dismemberment or being buried alive — the women choose prison. This is where Sevigny met them, and took photographs for his new series on the topic. A portion of his work will be on display at the Kraemer Family Library
at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
between Oct. 21-23. Sevigny will speak during a reception Wed., Oct. 23 at 5 p.m.
In addition to the expected commentary on Sevigny's documentation of the prison, some question the place of the voyeur in the scenario. According to professor and chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department
at UCCS, Suzanne MacAulay Ph.D.
, "Sevigny's work aims to provoke debates about photography and sociology and the voyeuristic aspect of the male gaze capturing the female image (imprisoned, forced to the streets, and mostly at a social & cultural disadvantage vis-a-vis power and authority)."