Letters from the Etui

Fall 2020 Organizer in Residence

Brianna Mims, Minh Han Vu and Georgina Grkikian

Women’s Center for Creative Work is pleased to present Letters from the Etui, a project curated by our Fall 2020 Organizers in Residence Brianna Mims, Minh Hân Vu and Georgina Grkikian.

We write this letter to you with deep gratitude and exhaustion. As we continue the fight to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex, imagine new ways of being in the world, work to get 45 out of office, manage through a global pandemic, and grieve the countless murders of black people – this is our offering to you. This is a sacred space. This is a tender space. This is a space of listening, learning, acting, and dreaming. 

–Brianna Mims, Minh Hân Vu and Georgina Grkikian

The vortex that we are immersed in has been brought about by our own imprudence. The only way to free ourselves from it is to open our eyes and review the history which we have not been determined to read. 

–Golrokh Iraee

Letters from the Etui is a digital platform featuring an animated video series, texts, and an accompanying series of workshops that support abolitionist frameworks, from personal to political practice. An etui–from the Old French estui, meaning prison–is a small ornamental case used for holding needles, cosmetics, and often other sacred possessions like personal letters. The project blends these meanings offering the etui as a metaphor for holding the sacredness and value of the people, ideas, creativity, and relationships impacted by imprisonment, and rejecting the sense of disposability that prisons support in our culture at large. Here, letters serve to connect students to each other across the walls of the prison system, they connect resistance struggles around the world, and they connect us as citizens and activists to a world oriented towards abolition. 

The video series was developed through a collaboration led by Dr. Kamran Afary, with Professor Zachary Zezima’s and students in his Cal State LA Animation Option class, and Dr. Kamran Afary and the Communication Studies students at Lancaster State Prison. Each film is a letter that utilizes the writing and narration of incarcerated students–responses to prompts on different aspects of interpersonal communication–in conjunction with animation to illuminate and visually represent the inner and outer lives of those within the prison system. The animation majors selected writings that most resonated with them and then spent an entire semester creating these short animations in Prof Zach Zezima’s class. As Dr. Kamran Afary describes, the project and collaboration aims to symbolically demolish the prison walls, abolish the conditions of isolation, and establish deeper love and connection.

Also included in the project is a letter written by Golrokh Iraee, an Iranian writer who has been imprisoned since October 2016, for an unpublished story she penned against the barbaric practice of stoning. During her years in prison, Iraee has continued to express her views through open letters smuggled out for publication. In the letter she scathingly opposes the Islamic Republic and expresses solidarity with Kurdish political prisoner, Zeinab Jalalian as well as others.

Brianna Mims is a movement artist, facilitator, and abolitionist. She studied Dance and NGOs and Social Change at the University of Southern California. She currently works for Californians United for a Responsible Budget.

Georgina Grkikian is an artist studying Architecture and Photography at the University of Southern California, working at the intersection of Art, Installations and Architecture.

Minh Hân Vu is a multimedia artist and student of architecture at the University of Southern California with a minor in law and public policy.

Kamran Afary, PhD, RDT, NT teaches Communication Studies at Cal State LA and in Lancaster Prison. He is co-editor of Communication Research on Expressive Arts and Narrative as Forms of Healing (2020) and co-author of Iranian Diaspora Identities: Stories and Songs (2020). He also offers training workshops in Narradrama at the Drama Therapy Institute of Los Angeles.

Events & Workshops

The workshop series developed by Brianna Mims, Minh Han Vu and Georgina Grkikian is designed to further explore the intricacies of the shorts, the themes in Iraee’s letters, and to give participants tools to take actionable steps towards abolition. All events are free.

#MeTooBehindBars
Thursday, October 22, 2020 // 2:00pm PDT
Hosted by Krys Shelley

In this webinar you will learn about Krys’ work at Californians Coalition for Women’s Prisoners, the #MeTooBehindBars Campaign, and Kyrs’ experiences in prison.

Beyond the Mind, Into the Body
Thursday, October 22, 2020 //4:00pm PDT
Hosted by Maytha Al Hassen

In this 60 minute-class will offer poses and sequences to get us in our bodies and connect with our souls. Through the guidance of somatic experiencing, we will also work on balancing our over-taxed nervous system, healing sympathetic nervous system dominance by activating our parasympathetic nervous system by exhaling deeply, easing some tightness, and opening our horizons. Open to all levels and entry points! Modifications will be offered.

Embodiment, Oppression, and Resilience
Thursday, November 5, 2020 // 11am PST
Hosted by Prentis Hemphill

This workshop will explore the impact of trauma and oppression on our individual and collective bodies. It will help us engage trauma-healing and resilience-building in our physiology and through practice. We will also cultivate practices to strengthen our inherent resilience to help us live out bold visions of interdependence, sustainability, and the abolition of harmful systems.

writing (you)topias: dreaming on the page
Thursday, November 5, 2020 // 1pm PST
Hosted by Zharia O’Neal

What is your utopia?  unlocking your desires can be the first step to self-advocacy, in your everyday life and otherwise. this workshop asks us to engage in writing exercises that center our personal paradise(s), forge connections, and allow us to stretch to embrace the bounds of what we want and need.

Abolition & ME: implementing freedom mindsets in our everyday lives 
Thursday, November 5, 2020 // 2:30pm PST
Hosted by Indigo Mateo

Abolition is not only about dispelling the carceral system but also replacing it with systems and ways of being that promote healing, community and freedom. Practice the pillars of abolition and zoom into everyday life situations where we have the power to invalidate retributive systems and embrace abolition. Themes of accountability, relationships, self love, community responsibility and harm including sexual violence will be discussed through an abolitionist lens.

Prison Abolitionism a view from North Africa and the Middle East 
Saturday, November 21, 2020 // 11am PST
Hosted by Freida Afary

New forms of collaboration for transformational justice: performance, narrative, and animation 
Saturday, November 21, 2020 // 12:30pm PST
Hosted by Dr. Kamran Afary, Lee Gibson, and Daniel Whitlow

In this session the panelists–a university teacher, a graduate, and a current student from the Cal State LA Communication Studies Prison BA Program–will share stories, experiences, and advice on the many ways we can create new forms of performance, from live and recorded theatrical pieces to journal publication and animation documentaries, to create a trauma-informed space of safety in helping to build resilience and resistance against the dehumanizing forms of isolation in current prisons. 

Practical Healing: A Guide to Integrate Daily Wellness
Saturday, November 21st, 2:30pm
Hosted by Jordi

This workshop is meant to provide a guide to tap into wellness techniques to integrate into your daily routine. Jordi will begin with a brief astrological check-in sharing what is going on with the stars, guide a sound bowl grounding meditation, share aromatherapy tips, and affirmations.  Join us as we share information and techniques that will enhance your healing rituals!