Art Show

Elena House-Hay x Red Emma's

Elena is an incarcerated artist in Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on madness, systemic repression, and the promise of abolition. She works in tandem with PeoplesHub, Let’s Get Free, and various prison advocacy zines and newsletters. Elena is committed to drawing attention to the flaws of the prison-industrial complex and to the humanity of those held in state-sponsored captivity.

Red Emma's is the worker cooperative behind the restaurant, bookstore, and community events space at 3128 Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore, MD, dedicated to putting principles of solidarity and sustainability into practice in a democratic workplace.

Join our partner organization, Let's Get Free:  The Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, to connect with people on the inside. They are a group working to end perpetual punishment, build a pathway out of the prisons back to our communities through commutation reform, support successful possibilities for people formerly and currently incarcerated, and shift to a culture of transformative justice.

Donate: Become a monthly sustainer!

Write: The Write Time, a weekly virtual gathering space to write to people on the inside.

Visit: Operation Break Bread is a program that connects people on the outside with people who are incarcerated at the two women’s prisons in PA: SCI-Cambridge Springs and SCI-Muncy.

Create: Creative Resistance is The Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee's creative practice of prison abolition.
Self-Portrait by Elena House-Hay (2022)Graphite & art marker on synthetic paper
Artist's Statement

My work is the expression of emotions that would otherwise rule my life. Memories, reports, vicarious realizations factor in and I seek to tell the rest of the world what it feels like to be constrained, to see and feel injustice, to be so full of emotion that there's only the option of maximum effort to address it. If we can all see the garrote that silences so many of us and takes our lives and forces us to struggle to breathe, maybe we can acknowledge it, evade it, and reject it when it whispers we are weak. We are strong and stronger when we resist it and when we face that which squats within us. Through the dissonance, I make art to make sense.

- Elena House-Hay

On View at RED Emma's in baltimore, md
Elena House-Hay
Surveillance Stasis, 2022

Within a transparent bubble the subject curls into herself. Her hair drifts away from her face as she curls into herself, protecting her core. Around her, the bubble's surface dimples around the sharp points of the metal nails that threaten to pop the subject's insubstantial sanctuary. Atop the flat heads of the nails rest unblinking irises, disembodied from eyeballs, multicolored and glistening. Bleached chaos in the background crisscross behind the eyes and bubble, becoming a matrix without terminus. Will the bubble pop? Will the subject soon become the eyes' spitted conquest? -- I ask myself the same question daily. My thin defenses cannot block the surveillance of the state. I live in an open cubicle, subject to countless eyes. I must protect my soft places or they may be punctured by the sharp edges of this place. No letter, no phone call, no visit, no message, no snack, meal, workout, or sketch goes uncatalogued. In the middle of it all, I am suspended, kept from living, arrested in a dependent purgatory in anticipation of incipient violation.
Elena House-Hay
Self Portrait, 2022

Working from a photo, I took away my state clothes and gifted myself earrings. It is an act of identity, to alter myself for a frozen moment, to mark the curves and slopes of my own face by my own hand. It is not exact, I find my features became Grecian, but it is an attempt to trace my features as an artist. It is telling that I still find myself a critic. Who can stand the intimacy? Who can capture themselves with skill?
Elena House-Hay
What ails you Cathy?, 2022

In the course of administering medicine, some pills get stuck. How many times was I asked if the medication was working, how many times was I asked if I felt better? How would I explain that I still was blue, my skin tinged cerulean because my treatment was choking me? My body empty, suffocating, they expected me to waste my remaining breath to explain. Was the collar of barbs that bled when I worked my throat not enough? Should I have torn open my chest to show the doctors that their pills stopped up my throat so no air or sustenance could reach me? Would they have noticed if I had?
Elena House-Hay
Bound, 2022

When Ruddies are young and elastic, they are bound into their proper forms. The resulting top-heavy shape is better suited to their environment and encourages only pro-social behaviors. A prepared Ruddie functions as it should, ensuring their continued utility.
Elena House-Hay
What is This?, 2022

Some naughty Ruddies pick at a downed Drone, becoming aware that this tool of the system is subject to discovery. The deviants deconstruct what they can and gawk at the mysterious parts within their small hands. Luckily, the tool of the system does not define the system. Those naughty Ruddies have far more to learn before they are a threat. The world of Consumption carries on and past these unnaturally curious scrappers, its foundation intact and uncaring towards an isolated few.
Elena House-Hay
In Work We Trust, 2022

Sweet legal tender! Crisp bills splay across the scene, each a vital ticket to survival on the world of Consumption. Pretty Pearlies grace the bills, stately and composed under the motto "In Work We Trust." A helpful soul applies a magnifying glass, revealing Ruddies! Yes, the invisible helpers of the world, stacked neatly into efficient chains, making the backdrop for Pearlies to pose against. So sturdy, so tiny, so many! Those Ruddies sure do work and blend in so the world can play. And isn't that grand?
Elena House-Hay
Do You Feel It?, 2022

Lurking within every Ruddie is the conflict of capitalist conditioning versus the Ruddie’s vulnerable heart. Each day, the Ruddie must consider what within it will win - the cold steel of consumerist desire or the living passion, the beating center of its very life.
Elena House-Hay
Consumption, 2022

Welcome to the world of Consumption. Watch those brave Ruddies toil on the pillars, vying to rise from the mists and ascend the rugged towers. How noble the Ruddies are, and vast in number as they clamber towards the presiding Pearlies, those scions draped in jewels, safe in their chambers. The Ruddies are driven to persist, to dodge the booms of the Drones and witness the accumulation of the wealth they so earnestly seek. Their goal is mobility, their toil endless, their ultimate purpose: Consumption.
Elena House-Hay
Patty Cake, 2022

Not only are Patty Cakes the most preferred cake, they’re the only ones in town! Specially formulated to meet Ruddies’ nutritional needs. Patty Cakes are a no-nonsense feed that efficiently sustains Ruddies as they work. Patty cakes are easy to eat on the go, so little Ruddies can zoom right back to work. No frills, no fuss, no delay, Patty Cakes make the day!
Elena House-Hay
Fueletariat, 2022

O Fortuna! This Ruddie has been selected! Plucked from a sea of potentials, the Ruddie will fuel the drone! From its common life, substance is extracted, bound towards the efficiency of the machines. No greater honor comes upon a Ruddie than to provide for the operators, the builders, the actors of this world. A special moment, when industry is sustained and awarded. Magnifique!
Elena House-Hay
I ll Fit, 2022

I ll Fit describes conformity. It describes the journey of a putty blob as it travels through its stages of life. Trailing the putty's progression is a series of dots that meander past the shapes that conform to the stages' ideals. The putty begins in the shape of a squiggle, born pink and malleable in warm mauve square. It ventures out into an infantile pastel stage, where it finds itself an oval to the majority's even circles. Moving along to the primary stage, the putty finds it is an isosceles triangle amongst equilaterals, then as it progresses onto its prime, it becomes a rectangle in an array of squares. The trend continues into the putty's golden years, where the putty still cannot conform. The senescent stage follows and the putty again tries to emulate the now hexagonal majority, but only succeeds in pulling itself into the shape of a coffin. In its refusal to embrace its own shape, the putty spent its lifetime running towards its own demise. What would it have taken to reject the majority and create its own healthy fit? What does it take for any of us to embrace ourselves? And how do we manage to do it before it's too late?
Elena House-Hay
One of Us, 2022

Who do we run to when the world finally makes its move to crush us? For the lizard in One of Us, it finds that its tail has been trapped under the boot and that it is bleeding darkness from its severed stump. It has no choice but to leave part of itself behind and seek safety. Just beyond the hazy border is a world of color, populated by lizards who have also had to leave bits of themselves behind, stuck under boots, or snagged in snares, or trapped in the teeth of predators. The new world beckons to the bleeding lizard. It is beautiful there and the lizards let their colors shine in a sea of blue and green. The lizards see the tears of their new friend and they offer love in return, welcoming the newcomer into the calm of their home. They do not care that parts of themselves are missing. They do not consider themselves anything less than whole. They live based on the experiences that drew them together, and are united through it, forming solidarity that withstands the boots, the snares, and the teeth. We all run to someone who understands us, someone who, despite life, is who we want to become. And they give us hope and a home, and they give us love that gives us color, so vibrant that the old world can only fade to gray.
more by elena

Elena is currently spending her time revising her third speculative fiction novel, writing creative nonfiction and flash fiction stories, earning her bachelor’s degree, painting trees and Ruddies, learning to play classical music, working in a machine shop, and running an exercise group. She occasionally sleeps. Her work can be found on PeoplesHub and Let's Get Free's websites, in Our Red Book, in The Movement magazine, on the podcast Self-Identities: Conversations with Convicted Women, and on her Instagram account @elenahousehay.

Elena's Book List

1. "Prisons Make Us Safer" and 20 Other Myths About Mass Incarceration - Victoria Law
2. The Broken Earth Trilogy - N.K. Jemisin
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
4. He, She and It - Marge Piercy
5. The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred - Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
6. Women's House of Detention - Hugh Ryan
7. Sister Outsider - Audre Lorde
8. The Book of Form and Emptiness - Ruth Ozeki
9. Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing and Prisons - Colin Kapernick
10. We Do This 'Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice - Mariame Kaba
11. Parable of the Sower - Octavia Butler
12. The Trial - Franz Kafka
13. Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
14. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert Heinlein
15. The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead

Message from co-director
Elena’s description of her life is at times a mirror to my own. From academic leaves to hospital stays. The difference being a moment, preceded by a lifetime of decisions that don’t belong to us. We found each other in different forms of isolation and forged a friendship through resisting the function of prisons. An affirmation of interdependence from both sides of freedom. Our connection grew through cement walls and solidarity, questioning: what is possible when the ladder is taller than the walls?

I’ve witnessed her create within restrictions, imposed by ableism – contoured by racial capitalism – enforced by prisons. While under confinement, solidarity economies become necessary and the practices of disability justice are survival tactics. The fusion of these lineages is what you see in Elena’s work.

I ask you to think of what’s unseen: the community, the study, the calls, the maroon jumpsuits, the letters, the tears, the barbed wire, the visits, the strip searches, the stories, the sickness, the doors, the relationships, the shackles, the spoken and unsaid commitments…the makings of abolition.

PeoplesHub is an online hub for movement workers to learn, connect, collaborate, and strategize - in and across the disability justice and solidarity economy movements. In 2021, Nico Amador, Joe Tolbert Jr. and myself began to create what would become PeoplesHub’s cultural organizing fellowship. We wanted to offer support, resources and political education to cultural workers without the expectation of production.

Elena was a fellow in the inaugural cohort of artists. What covers the walls [at Red Emma's] is a product of study and struggle. A temporary presence in Baltimore until she’s back free forever

- Dustin Gibson