Over my lunch break today, I ventured out into the rain to see an exhibit called "The Last Supper: Final meal Requests of U.S. Death Row Inmates”. Julie Green, the artist, began the project in 1999 after being disturbed that the last meal requests of death row inmates were published in the newspaper. According to what appears to be her website, to date 234 plates are complete, and every death penalty state is included. Her site also says:
"Because of the content, The Last Supper is challenging to produce and may be challenging to view. While painting, I think about the death penalty, the victims, the heinous crimes committed, the individuals executed, the large number of minorities on death row, and the margin for error in judicial process. I think about food, choice, and whether inmates are able to eat the food they order. Specific food requests, often regional specialties, sometimes tell where the individual lived and may provide clues on the one’s race and economic level. Inmates in some states are limited to food available in the prison kitchen. There is a great deal of red meat but few lobsters, and no sushi or Godiva chocolates."
I absolutely love the concept of this exhibit. Whatever your opinion is about the death penalty, I think we do ourselves a disservice by de-humanizing criminals in general and death row inmates in particular. It's easy to say that X-convict did such and such and is therefore a monster and not fit to live; it's much harder, but much more honest, to realize that he or she is a person--a person who has done horrible things, no doubt--but a person all the same. And I think it's easier for the rest of us to identify with someone who likes Coke or (as on one of the plates I saw today) pickles.
As much as I liked the idea however, I didn't care for the way it was carried out. The monochromatic paint (Sweet Husband said it's called "China Paint") made it difficult to make out exactly what some of the requested food was, and the whole thing had a kind of junior-high art student feel to it. I did like the way the plates were displayed though--as I stepped back to look at them all as a whole it really struck me that each one represented a person.
If you knew you were going to die at midnight tonight, what would your "last supper" be?
Comment and discuss.