Collection 1880s–1940s

Pepón Osorio. Badge of Honor. 1995 593

Two standard-definition videos (black and white, sound; 19:25 min.), prison bars, beds, steel toilet and sink, fabric, cigarette boxes, photographs, shoes, dresser, cabinet, nightstands, lamps, baseball cards, posters, reflective floor tile, trophies, air fresheners, clothes hamper, television monitor, basketballs, mountain bike, computer, plastic, watches, rings, and black-and-white photographs, Overall dimensions variable. Acquired through the generosity of Heidi and Gregory Fulkerson, in memory of their parents Dr. Samuel and Katharine Fulkerson, and in honor of Warren James. © 2022 Pepón Osorio

Pepón Osorio: Hi, my name is Pepón Osorio.

In 1995, personal and historical events prompted me to make Badge of Honor. One was the Million Man March and the other was the birth of my second son.

I visited many, many places around Newark, New Jersey, talking to young people. And we talked about incarceration. In certain communities, in the '90s, to have your father incarcerated, was a badge of honor. It meant that no one will mess around with you.

I went into a couple of prisons to do workshops, and a man comes over and says, “I want to work with you.” He told me he has a son, and so immediately, I said, “Sure.” And I recorded the father. And then I went to the son's house and I just played the recording. The father goes into some deep, deep thinking because he can afford the time and the space to do that. And then the son was trying to cope with that reality of growing up without your father. And so I went back and forth, back and forth for about three weeks.

At the end, it was obvious that I needed to create the son's bedroom and the father's cell and put them next to each other. They're constructed in a way that it's very complex, similar to the complexity of the conversation, similar to the complexity of their lives. I think that installations allow me to be honest.

The son was easier because I had him as a reference. I just basically multiplied everything by a hundred. It's about illumination, reflection and that sense of the fear of the emptiness. The father's cell was a little bit more difficult. I refuse to use fake materials. I had to convince the administration at the prison to provide me with the real bed and the real toilet seat and the real toilet paper.

My intention for this work was to acknowledge the trauma of incarceration. And I hope that what the piece brings, it's an ability to to feel some sort of compassion, empathy, deep listening. And at the same time reveal the beauty in care and love for each other.