The fallout from September Eleventh and the advent of the digital revolution has had dramatic effect on the privacy laws of the United States. Seemingly overnight, we became much more vulnerable. Using something as simple as a Google search history, law enforcement now has unparalleled ability to scrutinize our actions, lawful or not. Corporations now have the capability to target advertising directly at our weaknesses and desires.
Concerned about such changes, I decided to try on the identities of a group of people I have least in common with, the online residents of the National Sex Offender Registry. Stigmatized permanently, it is now nearly impossible for a registered sex offender to find subsistence work or somewhere safe to live. I painted portraits of sex offenders found by searching for my name, and selecting a community of offenders from the results. I wanted to raise awareness about the value of anonymity, but instead, I discovered a different question: ‘Are we really safer because someone else is not?’
Sex Offenders, for obvious reasons, inspire little empathy. Reacting to my paintings, viewers were moved to discus this taboo subject. They shared their feelings, knowledge, and ignorance, about who gets registered, how the registry functions, and how our safety has changed since the registry formed.
Painting these men was creepy. They were sad looking and had committed sexually predatory crimes such as being Johns and worse. My paintings recast these characters, turning their faces into masks and placing my sanguinely feminine eyes within each portrait. It was difficult to paint such charged subjects. Placing myself in this context was uncomfortable, but seeking to answers to problems isn't easy, or obvious.
I have no sympathy for people who commit atrocious crimes, but I am weary of the effect on society of this scarlet letter punishment. What I wonder is:
Are we really safer, or do we just think we are?