Charles and David Koch are the CEO and VP of Koch Industries, respectively. Joseph Acker is an incarcerated artist currently serving a 10-year sentence. Acker doesn’t know the Koch brothers personally, but he drew them as part of a project called “Captured.”
Started by Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider in 2016, “Captured” attempts to shine a spotlight on what its creators deem are “crimes masquerading as commerce.” By asking incarcerated artists to draw the CEOs, VPs and chairmans they believe should be behind bars, they hope to inspire other people to consider a world in which the highest levels of corporate leadership are held personally responsible for the illegal actions of their companies.
“If we put poison in a glass of your drinking water, and you got sick or your children had birth defects because of it, we would certainly be hauled off to prison,” Greenspan told HuffPost. “But when a corporation does it on a large scale, if anything, they’re given a fine. [...] It’s kind of just the cost of doing business.”
“So we started thinking,” he added, “it’s interesting when you have the veil of a corporation around you, it’s almost like you’re exempt from [...] behaving within the law.”
Greenspan and Tider recognized early on the power of juxtaposing the circumstances of incarcerated artists with the “rap sheets,” as they call them, of corporate leaders accused of various misdeeds.
In Acker’s case, he’s serving 10 years in prison for receiving stolen goods, possessing altered passports, and possessing body armor as a felon. The Koch brothers, “Captured” asserts on its website, have yet to see prison time for bribing their way into securing contracts in Africa, India and the Middle East; selling millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran; bribing judges and legislators; propagating mass deception by funding climate change denial groups; polluting American’s air, water and climate; and rigging Congress.
“What we thought would be interesting is to juxtapose the two: People who are in jail, who society has already deemed to be criminals, whether it be for murder or for theft or for burglary or manslaughter. And put them up against companies who are really committing the same kinds of crimes,” Greenspan said. “So we display each piece of artwork with a ‘rap sheet’ ― a ‘rap sheet’ for the incarcerated artist and a ‘rap sheet’ for the companies and the crimes they’ve committed over the past couple of decades.”
”Captured” wasn’t easy to get off the ground. In order to get in touch with the various incarcerated artists who took part in the project, Greenspan and Tider originally reached out to the prisons and prison wardens themselves, to no avail. Eventually, they got in touch with an art therapy program coordinator who couldn’t help them on the record, but agreed to bring a letter from the two men detailing the project to the prison she worked with.
“She couldn’t promise it wouldn’t be in her pocket the day she visited the prison and fall out of her pocket in the art room,” they explained.
Next, Greenspan and Tider turned to eBay, where they found a group of incarcerated artists selling portraiture ― images of Elvis or Madonna or other famous people. They contacted the eBay sellers, who tended to be family or friends of the incarcerated individual, who would facilitate contact with the actual artist.
“Once we got there, the project sort of went viral in the prison system,” Tider added. “An inmate would tell another inmate, even in other prisons, and we were able to get a lot of artists that way.”
To arrange for the actual portraits in “Captured,” Greenspan and Tider began by offering artists a selection of five to 10 corporate leaders they could draw. But because of the limited means of communication, and the delays that come along with using traditional snail mail, they felt it became more feasible if they just chose a subject for each of their participating artists.
So Greenspan and Tider would create a dossier on the proposed subject, with images to draw from, background on the associated company, and information and case materials on the “crimes” committed, and send it to the artist. If the artist agreed to draw the person, the project moved forward. If they didn’t, they could offer them a different person.
“All the incarcerated artists knew the aspects of the project and the context of the project,” Greenspan added.
He and Tider warned them about the attention the project could draw and the subsequent blowback that could affect an inmate’s chances at parole; some of the individuals involved were on death row and felt little regard for those potential consequences. Moreover, each artist was compensated fairly for their work. “Captured” paid the artists $100 (based on an estimation that the average rate for a prison portrait was $30), covering any fees associated with services like JPay.
Online, “Captured” includes links to contact information for the incarcerated artists, allowing fans of their work to reach out if they so choose.
“Corporations maintain that they have the same rights and freedoms as individuals. That’s kind of a reframing of a corporate entity that has no conscience ― it’s now being considered a person,” Greenspan noted. “Yet we’ve got actual people in prison who are treated like subhumans. By putting contact information there, by showing their artistry ― we’ve seen people go, ‘Wow, there’s a person behind this.’”
“Captured” also takes physical form. Last year, Greenspan and Tider sold 1,000 “Captured” books, donating all proceeds to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. The timing couldn’t have been more ideal ― they’d included a portrait of Rex Tillerson, currently the secretary of state in President Donald Trump’s administration, in the series. This year, they have plans to release 1,000 more copies, and although they don’t know yet where the proceeds will go, they’ve been thinking about groups like the Brooklyn Bail Fund or organizations working on prison reform policies and lowering prison populations.
“When you see something like Rex Tillerson become secretary of state, a man who’s worked for a company with decades-long abuses of the law ― what it’s done to our environment. It’s troubling,” Greenspan said. “But we’re not telling you that it should be troubling, we’re asking you to at least consider it.”
“One of the big goals was to redefine things in people’s minds,” Tider concluded. “If you consider corporations anew, and you consider the things that they’ve done, you might come out with a different perspective on them. Likewise, it’s the same for the inmates. If you thought of inmates as people who were very different from you, you might see the beautiful artistry they do and think differently.”
Welcome to Battleground, where art and activism meet.