The web-documentary Public Secrets (2007) provides an interactive interface to an audio archive of hundreds of statements made by incarcerated women, which unmask the secret injustices of the war on drugs, the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex. Some secrets are kept from the public and then there are ‘public secrets’ – secrets that the public chooses to keep safe from itself. The injustices of the war on drugs, the criminal justice system, and the Prison Industrial Complex and their special impact on women are ’public secrets’. The trick to the public secret is in knowing what not to know. In 2001, I began working with the legal non-profit Justice Now. I walked through a metal detector and into the Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s in the United States. It changed my life. The stories I heard inside challenged my most basic perceptions – of justice, of freedom and responsibility. After meeting with me, the women I interviewed were subject to strip-search and visual body cavity searches. Most of the women I interviewed were, highly politicized, peer organizers who were seriously committed to speaking out against injustice. For these women, our conversations were acts of ethical and political testimony. It was my responsibility to create a context in which this testimony could be heard.
Public Secrets, like all my work in digital media and interactive documentary, is feminist and anti-racist. Public Secrets was co-authored with incarcerated women and focuses on the specific conditions of injustice perpetrated against women in the criminal punishment system. Since its launch in 2007 Public Secrets has been used as a tool for advocacy by Justice Now, as well as many other anti-prison activists, and used in countless university courses across disciplines from art to legal studies.
Sharon Daniel is a digital media artist who creates interactive and participatory documentary artworks addressing issues of social, racial, and environmental injustice, with a focus on mass incarceration and the criminal justice system. Her work has been exhibited in museums and festivals internationally – most recently: in The Museum of Capitalism (Oakland 2017, Boston 2018 and NYC 2019); in “Take Action: For Freedoms” at California College of the Arts (US, CA 2018); in a solo exhibition “Secret Injustices”, at the Schmidt Center Gallery (US, FL, 2017); as an official selection in the Alternate Realities exhibition at Sheffield Doc|Fest (UK, 2016); and in a solo exhibition titled “Convictions” at STUK Kunstencentrum, (Belgium, 2013). Daniel’s works have also been shown in museums and festivals such as WRO media art biennial 2011 (Poland), Artefact 2010 (Belgium), Transmediale 08 (Germany), the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival DEAF03 (Netherlands), Ars Electronica (Austria), the Lincoln Center Festival (NY/USA), the Corcoran Biennial (Washington DC) and the University of Paris I (France). Her essays have been published in books, including ‘Female Authorship and the Documentary Image’ (Oxford University Press, 2018), and professional journals such as ASAP Journal, Cinema Journal, and Leonardo. Daniel was honored by the Webby Awards in 2008 and the Rockefeller New Media Fellowship in 2009. In 2015-16 She was named in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts “YBCA 100” – a list of “the creative minds, makers, and pioneers that will shape the future of American culture”. She was a 2017 Fulbright Scholar at Ulster University.