Paper, acrylic, graphite, and pastel on canvas, 2018
Collection of the artist, courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
In 1944, fourteen-year-old George Stinney Jr. was executed in an electric chair for a murder that he did not commit. He remains the youngest person to have been executed in a U.S. prison. Deborah Roberts’s series Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep) honors Stinney’s life and brings to light this tragic story of injustice and violence during the Jim Crow era of racial discrimination.
Stinney’s exoneration decades later by the state of South Carolina is emblematic of the many injustices against African American youths who have lost their lives due to false accusations. When Roberts found Stinney’s mugshot, she felt compelled to make this work: “I didn’t want to—I was called to do it,” she said.