Last Last Meal on Death Row
According to an old custom, American death row inmates can order and receive a special meal on the same day or the day before their execution. A practice that has inspired the British artist Mat Collishaw, who has always been exploring the fundamental and existential dualism of the human being, always poised between life and death, splendour and misery: sublime beauty on the one hand, abandon and corruption on the other. Death has always fascinated Collishaw, being the inevitable corollary to life that does not have limits.
Last Meals on Death Row is a collection of still lifes representing the final meal of death-sentence prisoners in American jails. Collishaw recreated the meals, as exhaustively documented by Jacquelyn Black, and photographed them in his very personal style, evoking the Flemish masters. Light is scarce in the dark illustration of this sombre theme, illuminating a few details of this last action by the living: eating before dying. And Collishaw has entitled each piece with the name of the condemned prisoner. Because the last meal is not a concept, no, it is what an alive man ate, before being executed by us. However, beyond the most torbid emotions that we feel when watching the works of someone who is called “the master of illusions”, it is the beauty that captures our sight taking it back, again and again, on these images of possible perfection. And, beyond the issue of the capital punishment, these Last Meals evoke, at the same time, the christianity that influenced the artist’s childhood: precisely, The Last Supper.
The latest inmate to be executed in Texas in 2011, Lawrence Russell Brewer – not exactly a good guy – has also been the latest Texan to be allowed to choose his Last Meal. Before his execution, he asked for two chicken steaks, a triple bacon cheeseburger, one pound of barbecue meat, three fajitas, a large bowl of fried okra, a meat lovers pizza, a pint of ice-cream, and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Once it was delivered, however, Lawrence Russell Brewer, refused to eat any of the feast. He wasn’t hungry. We can understand it. But Senator John Whitmire wasn’t of the same opnion. “It is extremely inappropriate,” he said.” How ridiculous to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege: ordering a meal, then refusing to eat it at the dawn of darkness? Killing, oh no, that is not indecent. It is perfectly “convenient.” Just like asking “to put an end to this practice.” Not the death sentence, unfortunately not, but only the Last Meal.
Brad Livingston, executive director of the Department of Criminal Justice of Texas, said the senator had a “valid point.” From now on, then, inmates senteced to death will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit.”
Is justice finally done?
With one clarification, but a substantial one. According to Brian Price, who was for a long time the “Texas death row chef, ” the meals received by the prisoners could hardly ever match their requests because, as a chef, he had to rely on what was available in the kitchen (www.mealstodiefor.com). The Last Meals of Collishaw show the desire, not the reality. In reality dwell neither justice nor grace.
DROME suggests you the following amazing collective exhibition, featuring some artworks by Mat Collishaw from the series Last Meal on Death Row:
Mémoires du futur – La collection Olbricht
La Maison Rouge
10, bd. de la Bastille
Paris, until January 15, 2012