Butch Froesch.jpg

"Tremica" by Butch Frosch.

Much gets overlooked in a national political atmosphere that resembles a tacky reality-TV show, but some things have simmered below the surface for years. America's incarceration rate for women grew at twice the rate of men in recent decades, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Most of our incarcerated women were jailed for nonviolent crimes, and many are single mothers. More than 8 percent of Louisiana children currently have a jailed parent. How did we get here?

That dark history is explored in the stories of more than 30 former prisoners in collaboration with area artists in this "(Per)Sister: Incarcerated Women in Louisiana" expo at Newcomb Art Museum. It may sound grim, but many of the works are quite engaging, with an aura of transcendence enlivened by a haunting soundtrack by Lynn Drury, Sarah Quintana, Kim Roberts (aka Queen Koldmadina), Spirit McIntyre, Margie Perez and Keith Porteous, who perform a free concert at 6 p.m. Friday, March 22 at the museum.

Butch Frosch's painting “Tremica” (pictured) is a graphical representation of Tremica Henry's separation from her 3-year-old daughter, an image that uses a pop-art style that Frosch associates with white America. Lee Deigaard's mixed-media “Persister Moon” depicts a blood moon embellished with white flowers and metal mesh, symbolizing the prison births.

The vibrant color patterns of Carl Joe Williams' installation invokes African cultural memory as a backdrop to Dolfinette Martin's story of her early incarceration and later work on behalf of at-risk young women. Epaul Julien's painting “13th” portrays Dolita Wilhike as an Angela Davis lookalike superimposed on an American flag where the stripes are images of chains, chain gangs and prisoners that implicitly question the actual legacy of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Rontherin Ratliff's imposing “All Black & Blue, Bruises of a Queen’s Crown” sculpture is a stylized chess piece that symbolizes the complicated process of Bobbie Jean Johnson's exoneration after decades of imprisonment, and MaPo Kinnard's ceramic “Aya” sculpture, based on an iconic West African deity of endurance, surveys these stories from the spirit realm, symbolically transcending oceans, continents and centuries.

Through July 6. Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, (504) 865-5328; www.persister.info.