'The Last Supper'

By Kiersten Remster '17

Serving as a basic need of survival for humans, food can also symbolize an intimate view of nostalgia into one’s life. Comfort foods reflect nostalgic memories that help to relieve and bring one back to a happy moment within his or her life that is no longer their reality.

Julie Green, artist and professor at Oregon State University, examines the nostalgic “Last Supper” of prisoners facing execution. Green researches within states that once held or still continue to practice the death penalty, and physically produces paintings of the final meal requested by the death-row inmates. Collecting discarded, vintage plates from flea markets and restaurants, Green paints in blue the simple comfort foods that serve as voices against the unethical procedures of capital punishment.

So far, Green has painted 600 plates that illustrate the final meals of death-row inmates and she will not stop painting until the death punishment ceases to exist within the United States.

Her participation in activism through the mouthpiece of art depicts the economic, class, ethnicity and socio-economic differences among the numbers of those that are executed by states. Green’s plates serve as a spark to ignite the conversation of confronting this social issue –that it continues to be used and is a repetitive, unjust procedure.

The death penalty gives the opportunity for the state to play the role of God. No human being should have the privilege or power to justifiably take another human’s life.

With the increasing controversy of botched executions, punishments that do not go as accordingly planned allot severe amounts of unjust pain and trauma to those that are facing execution. The prisoner faces cruel and unusual punishment. As the Catholic Church has quite clearly stated, there is no justification in the death penalty.

Among the statistics on death row inmates as pointed out by Dr. Danielle Poe, professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton, “80% of death row inmates killed a white person, with 42% of the inmates being black although African Americans only make up 12.9% of the U.S. population.”

Green’s plates render the soul comfort foods that are the final voices and actions spoken by the death row victims. While the collection of 600 plates together constitutes an exuberant uniformity, the plates are extremely individualized and unique. Aesthetically, the nostalgic meal is not a broad choice. Ranging from a bag of jolly ranchers to spaghetti o’s, the simple foods consumed for a last meal perpetuate the realization that these people who are subjected to the death penalty are no different than we are. Like us, they enjoy the nostalgic meal that reminds them of childhood and they seek the same relaxation as we do.

The prisoners that face death row are men and women who do not deserve the type of unjustifiable treatment that they are given by those that perpetuate and imitate the role of God. Each inmate’s final meal symbolizes every voice of those that endure these cruel circumstances.

Judith Huacuja, chair of the Department of Art and Design at the University of Dayton as well as the guest curator for Julie Green’s work, asks us “what would your last supper be?”

The Last Supper is currently on display until April 12th at the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio. Presented by the Dayton Art Institute and the University of Dayton with support by the Office of the President, Department of Art and Design, and Graul Chair in Arts and Languages. Free admission for UD students; $8 general admission.

Kiersten Remster is a sophomore Art History and German student at the University of Dayton. 
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