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“Incarcerated Women: A View From the Inside Out”

Most of Willa Shalit’s subjects are famous figures (Ronald Reagan, Stevie Wonder, Rosa Parks, the Dalai Lama), but, a few years ago, she did a project with female inmates from Bexar County Adult Detention Center in San Antonio, Texas. The 75 women paired off to mask and unmask each other’s faces. Shalit is known for her life-cast sculptures, covering the faces, hands, or torso with plaster and gauze, and in “Incarcerated Women: A View From the Inside Out” the 40 masks glow in 3-D holographic form. The visages of these anonymous women look like American heroes from decades past, such as Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman. Their jail experiences range from a few months to 20 years on the inside. The accompanying text portrays life-casting as a transformative experience for the women and viewers as well: Many women said they saw their daughters in the masks; some said they didn’t recognize the faces; many wrote of pain but also of peace. In one particularly effective account, inmate Rosa wrote, “Putting that thing on me I saw my ancesters [sic], my grandfather standing on a white horse. I saw it clear. It made me feel proud. I’m proud to be showing my face, wherever you’re going to show it.” See how Shalit has released the prison population. The exhibit runs through Sunday, July 26, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW. $3. (202) 783-5000. (Holly Bass)