Some of the portraits seem fit for the walls of a boardroom; others, the display tables of sketch artists on a boardwalk. All were created by people incarcerated in the United States, and each one — stony-faced or smiling — depicts a major figure guilty of corporate crimes yet still walking free. These 29 portraits of CEOs and chairmen make up The Captured Project, an extensive project by Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider. If their names sound familiar, it might be because they were the pair behind the Edward Snowden bust; while they were critiquing the government’s surveillance systems with unsanctioned public art, Tider and Greenspan were also deep into researching the tainted histories of some of America’s most powerful people and commissioning prisoners to produce portraits to help them expose what the duo calls “crimes masquerading as commerce.”
The guilty include top heads of finance such as Citigroup’s Michael Corbat, Wells Fargo’s John G. Stumpf, and J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon; power figures of the energy sector from Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant to former BP Oil CEO Tony Hayward; and chief players of the food industry, including Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi, Coca-Cola’s Muhtar Kent, and Nestlé’s Peter Brabeck-Letmathe. Tider and Greenspan have meticulously outlined each of these corporations’ crimes online, describing them in the same terms applied to criminal offenses: the Koch brothers, for instance, who have funded organizations that deny climate change, are accused of mass deception as well as supporting terrorism through past secret sales with Iran. Kent, of Coca-Cola, is slapped with gross negligence manslaughter for his company’s role in the rising rates of Type-2 diabetes among Americans.
“Those were companies that had the longest or most egregious list of crimes levied against them,” Tider told Hyperallergic. “There’s hard evidence that this company has systematically done these things over decades and decades of time, and this person has been at the helm the whole time, or they’ve held very senior positions and are now at the helm.”
All of that evidence is also included in The Captured Project‘s online database in the form of reference links, researched and collected by the pair for over a year. Beside each CEO’s list of crimes are the offenses with which his or her portraitist was charged, along with the received sentence. Stacked as such, the gravity of violations against the economy, environment, labor, and more that each subject has committed is staggeringly clear. Furthermore, when you look at the project as a whole, the offenses of these free-to-roam figures are often of a similar nature to those of the incarcerated artists: they concern, for instance, some sort of theft, fraud charge, or even assault or a drug-related crime — just measured in different circumstances and on different scales. What may make the corporate criminals’ misdeeds even more frustrating is the fact that many probably directly affect you, perhaps even every single day.
“While the ones being incarcerated have committed sometimes very heinous crimes, the crimes of the subjects they are painting have such greater widespread destruction and negative effects,” Greenspan said. “We thought it would be interesting as a viewer to be a fly on a wall to someone who is in prison looking to someone whose actions make you think they should be as well.”
Greenspan and Tider commissioned the paintings from prisoners just as you would any working artist, paying each one $100 in exchange for an artwork. The pair found many participants by searching for convicts who continually sell portrait work online as a way to make money, with sales largely facilitated by their family or friends. Most of them had taught themselves to paint or draw in prison. The project eventually went viral within the prison system, with some interested inmates reaching out to Greenspan and Tider directly. As a result, the final 29 portraits were made in prisons located in numerous states — including California, Florida, Washington, and Texas — and reflect a range of individual artistic styles.
Greenspan and Tider only provided artists with photographs of the CEOs to work off of, in addition to information on their companies’ illicit engagements, but the pair also requested that they remain faithful to reality. An artist who initially sent in a CEO as a pirate and another who editorialized with devil horns both had to produce new portraits. Still, hints of personal style and commentary come through: the Koch brothers, for instance, are rendered with wry, gleaming halos; some pencil drawings resemble courtroom sketches, alluding to the subjects’ criminality. Most “sitters” are posing happily — these could very well be straightforward portraits, but in the context of The Captured, they suggest manipulative façades covering up illicit actions.
The portraits are published in a limited edition book, all profits from which will go toward efforts to elect Bernie Sanders, who has pledged to hold corporations responsible for their actions, remove corporate control over government, and reform the prison system. For those unable to obtain a copy, the project will remain online as an accessible directory to reference those responsible for widespread damage and destruction who might otherwise slip from public (and judicial) awareness.
“A project like this, which can be distributed on the internet, which has a level of theater and irony and a little bit — to some people — of comedy to it … it’s a way for people to get educated and hopefully find out more,” Greenspan said.