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Artist raises awareness about capital punishment

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Updated: Thursday, January 19, 2012 10:01

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Photos by Joe Shearer/The Gateway

(Right) Tracey Menten (left) and UNO English professor Tammie Kennedy explore Julie Green's "Last Supper" exhibition on Jan. 14.

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Attendees take part in a panel discussion on the death penalty on Jan. 14 at the UNO Art Gallery. The panel was moderated by Criminology and Criminal Justic professor Dennis Hoffman.

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Memebers of the public wander about the UNO Art Gallery on Jan. 14 at the Weber Fine Arts building.

The death penalty has always been a hot topic issue in the United States. There are currently 34 states with the death penalty, with Nebraska being one of them. One artist who doesn't believe in the death penalty is taking a stand to try and abolish capital punishment entirely.

Julie Green is an associate professor who teaches painting, drawing and contemporary issues in art at Oregon State University. Green has spent over a decade studying the final meals requested by inmates before dying. Her collection features 476 painted plates, each of which depict a unique last meal request of a former prisoner on death row.

"I have always been focused on food," Green said on her website. "As a kid, I won eating contests; these days I grow organic produce. The years I spent in Oklahoma, which has the highest per capita rate of executions, turned my interest in food towards final meals."

When Green lived in Oklahoma, she began reading the final meal requests of local inmates, which were published in the newspaper. "The Last Supper project" is currently on display in UNO's art gallery, located on the first floor in the Weber Fine Arts building, as part of a four-week exhibition.

Green's plates are painted with mineral paint and then porcelain fired. Her project has received national media attention from National Public Radio as well as magazines like Ceramics Monthly and Gastronomica.

The UNO exhibition marks the first time that all of Green's plates created to date have been on display in a public location. The exhibition opened Jan. 13 with a reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. People lined the walls of the art gallery during the reception, carefully reading about each plate and the person who requested the final meal.

"The exhibit is so utterly demanding on the imagination of the viewer," exhibit viewer Jacqueline Scoones said. "It's entirely flat and almost cliché if all you do is look at the plates because really where it starts to resonate is if you bring to it your imagination. Each plate is a scene, each plate compels you to imagine."

Green recently received a grant from the prestigious Joan Mitchell Foundation. The award is given to only 25 contemporary artists a year to acknowledge painters and sculptors nationwide who create work of exceptional quality.

Green's "Last Supper" project is exceptional and thought provoking. The project begs the viewer to wonder about the personalities of the former death row inmates. The pictures depicted on the plates vary from a traditional dinner like chicken and mashed potatoes to a bag of Jolly Ranchers. Some inmates have no request at all.

"When looking at the inmates' humble choices, it is important to note that while rituals and traditions vary, most states limit final-meal allowances to twenty dollars," Green said on her website. "Texas, home to cattle ranches and more death-row executions (477) than any other state, doesn't allow steak for a final meal. If you order steak in Texas, you get hamburger."

Green says she plans to continue adding 50 more plates to "The Last Supper" project each year until capital punishment is abolished. The exhibition is free to the public and closes on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 3 p.m.

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