Eastern State Penitentiary Commissions Artist Mark Menjivar to Create Multimedia Installation for Site’s Abandoned “Death Row”
April 6, 2022
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has commissioned San Antonio-based artist Mark Menjivar to create a site-specific installation for its 2022 season. Through a multi-channel sound installation and text panels, the artist will explore the story of David Lee Powell and the musical score that Powell composed while incarcerated on Texas’s death row. Menjivar’s work, titled DLP Mirror, will debut at Eastern State Penitentiary on Friday, May 6, 2022, and will remain on view through the end of the year.
During his incarceration, Powell, who was once an honor student at the University of Texas, composed a variation of an 18th century musical score, an incredible feat for someone with no access to instruments or any musical training. The music was played in the courtroom during his trial and resurfaced after Powell’s execution, when the contents of his cell were donated by his friends to the Texas After Violence Project (TAVP).
Artist Mark Menjivar will transform Powell’s composition into a multimedia installation that will be located inside Eastern State Penitentiary’s Cellblock 15, also called Death Row. Visitors to the historic site will hear Powell’s music from multiple speakers situated throughout the cellblock as they view a series of prints, including Powell’s original handwritten score. The sheet music will also be available for visitors to take home with them, so that they may play and share the piece with others.
David Lee Powell was executed in 2010 after serving 32 years on death row for the murder of police officer Ralph Ablanedo. Powell had graduated high school as valedictorian at 16 years old, but soon faced severe mental health issues. He was addicted to methamphetamine at the time of the murder.
“Mark’s Menjivar’s DLP Mirror will be the first artist installation at Eastern State to address capital punishment in more than a decade,” says Sean Kelley, Eastern State Penitentiary’s senior vice president, “and the first inside Death Row itself.” “Mark’s work invites reflection on retribution, redemption, and what we each believe the goals of our criminal justice system should be,” Kelley continues. “These topics inspired the creation of Eastern State Penitentiary nearly 200 years ago, and they remain of central importance to our nation today. With many U.S. states abolishing capital punishment in recent years, and with public support for the practice at its lowest in a generation, this thought-provoking piece will reach visitors at a critical time.”
“I am deeply grateful to be working with Eastern State Penitentiary on this project,” says Menjivar. “Violence, including capital punishment, sends waves of trauma throughout our communities, and I hope this installation provides another way of examining these complicated realities.”
Mark Menjivar’s DLP Mirror will debut to the public on Friday, May 6, 2022, after a private reception for Eastern State members the evening before. The work will be available during daytime tours as well as Night Tours: Summer Twilight, and it will remain on view through the end of the year.
Artist installations are included with admission to Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP). Other standard ESP programs, including “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, guide-led Hands-On History tours, and history exhibits, are also included with admission. Tickets are available online at www.EasternState.org or at the door subject to availability.
About the Artist:
Mark Menjivar is a San Antonio based artist and Associate Professor in the School of Art and Design at Texas State University. His work explores diverse subjects through photography, archives, oral history and participatory project structures. He holds a BA in Social Work from Baylor University and an MFA in Social Practice from Portland State University.
Mark has engaged in projects at venues including the Rothko Chapel, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, The Houston Center for Photography, The San Antonio Museum of Art, The Puerto Rican Museum of Art and Culture, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum and the Krannert Art Museum. Mark is the artist-in-residence with the Texas After Violence Project, a community-based archive and documentary project cultivating deeper understandings of the impacts of state-sanctioned violence on individuals, families, and communities. He was also named a 2019 Mid-America Arts Alliance Interchange Fellow.
About Artist Installations at Eastern State Penitentiary:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has commissioned more than 100 site-specific artist installations since 1995. Projects are selected through an annual application process, which seeks memorable, thought-provoking additions to the historic site’s public programming, combined with true excellence in artistic practice. Installations are chosen for their ability to make connections between the complex history of the penitentiary and today’s justice system, corrections policies, and the lives of people living or working behind prison walls.
Artist installations are included with standard admission to Eastern State Penitentiary. In total, 14 artist installations—one new and 13 returning installations—will be on view for the 2022 season, May through December:
- Linda Bond: Deadly Weapons
- Greg Cowper: Specimen
- William Cromar: GTMO
- Michelle Handelman: Beware the Lily Law
- Tyler Held: Identity Control
- Jesse Krimes: Apokaluptein16389067:II
- Rachel Livedalen: Doris Jean
- Mark Menjivar: DLP Mirror
- Jess Perlitz: Chorus
- Provisional Island: An Electric Kite
- Ann Reichlin: Transient Room
- Dehanza Rogers: #BlackGirlhood
- Alexander Rosenberg: A Climber’s Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary or, Eastern State’s Architecture, and How to Escape It
- Cindy Stockton Moore: Other Absences
About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site interprets the legacy of American criminal justice reform, from the nation’s founding through to the present day, within the long-abandoned cellblocks of the nation’s most historic prison.
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held approximately 80,000 people during its 142 years of operation, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is open for tours year-round. Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; award-winning exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.
In recent years, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has been awarded the prestigious Excellence in Exhibitions award by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the nation’s highest award in exhibition development and design, for its exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, as well as the Institutional Award for Special Achievement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and the Trustee Emeritus Award for Stewardship from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Returning Citizens Tour Guide Project, which hires people who were formerly incarcerated to lead tours of the historic site, has won the EdCom Award for Innovation in Museum Education by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and has been featured internationally by such networks as the BBC and others. For more information, visit www.EasternState.org.
Artist installations are made possible in part by revenue from Eastern State’s Halloween fundraiser, Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary.
Eastern State also receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Marketing support is financed in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development.