Freedom Wasn’t Free by Zhi Kai Vanderford

Freedom Wasn’t Free by Zhi Kai Vanderford

Medium: acrylic paint on paper 

Size: 30″ x 25″

Artist statement Featured in this work is John Lewis, who was beaten during the Bloody Sunday March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. John Lewis eventually became a Georgia congressman and fought tirelessly for racial justice. His edict was to get in “good trouble, necessary trouble” Additionally featured, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a fierce advocate for gender equality and dubbed by millennials the ‘Notorious RBG’. Their lives were dedicated to fighting for civil and human rights. It is incumbent upon us that we can, to at the very least vote, to keep the liberties bestowed upon us.

Artist bio: Zhi Kai H. Vanderford is a 55 year old driven activist, poet and artist for human rights. A transman and life prisoner, he has spent 36 consecutive years incarcerated between California, Oklahoma and Minnesota women’s prisons. He has a BA in Communications with dual minors in Business Management & Sociology. Minnesota’s Barnes & Thornburg law firm and All Square Restaurant are 2022-2023 benefactors for his paralegal training. His essays can be found in books: Poetry Unbound, Yellow Medicine Review, The Named & the Nameless, Our Red Book, Tuft University’s ReSentencing Journal and All Rise Magazine. Zhi Kai’s poetry & art are intermittently showcased on various and sundry websites such as: Arizona University, Maryland’s Justice Arts Coalition and Pennsylvania’s Prison Health News. Zhi Kai’s career goal is to prevent LGBTQ teen suicide, incarceration and advocate toward better solutions.

Image description: A group of sketches on white paper with visible creasing lines. In the center is a raised fist, holding a pencil, with the fingers facing the viewer. It has a deep blue outline, and is illustrated with shades of green, yellow, orange, and red. There are words on each finger, which left to right read: LGBTQ+ Pride, Gender Equality, Pro-Choice, Immigration Protection. On the part of the palm coming down from the thumb is written “Black lives Matter;” on the right side of the palm is “CIVIL RIGHTS;” at the base of the wrist, where the arm drawing ends is “HUMAN RIGHTS & FREEDOMS.” 

In the upper left is a portrait  captioned to the left, “Supreme Court Justice R.B.G” and underneath,“Ruth Bader Ginsberg.” She is a white woman with dark pulled back hair, she wears black glasses, a small red earing, and a blacktop, with a white collar. Her green gloved hand touches her chin thoughtfully. The portrait stops at her shoulders.

Below RBG is a silver handcuff; the cuff is open and the chain is broken.

Below the handcuff is the word VOTE, spelled out with solid coloured bodies making each letter: Purple & Pink hold hands and lean away to make the V; Orange makes a table-top on Green’s upward facing arms and legs to make O; Yellow stands in a T-pose, Pink, Purple, and Blue form an E stacked on top of each other. A black background behind the letters helps them stand out.  

In the bottom right is a portrait captioned “Georgia Congressman & Civil Rights Leader John Lewis.” He is a black man with no hair, a gentle smile, and a determined gaze to the left. He wears a blue blazer, with a white shirt and red tie.

Above John Lewis, in red capital letters, is “GOOD TROUBLE.”

In the upper right quadrant are: a wire coat hanger with a red circle around it and a red diagonal slash through the circle; a white ballot box with a purple base, a ballot with a red check mark is in the rectangular hole of the box.