Racial Justice Maps of Madison

Anders Elsa Inking
Preparing the block for a group print. (Photo by Z! Haukeness)

In 2015, the Madison Arts Commission sponsored a collaboration between myself and geographer Elsa Noterman to make artist maps of racial justice issues in Madison, WI. This project was funded by a BLINK! grant with fiscal sponsorship by the Social Justice Center. The maps were on a rotating exhibit at the Madison Central Library throughout the month of February 2016. All four were on exhibit together for the Library’s Night Light in March 2016 and in the show “What Can Art Do?” in March 2017 in UW-Madison’s Gallery 7, curated by the Artist Activist Workgroup.

We focused our research on mapping colonization, incarceration, and homelessness.

  • Effigy Mound Map of Colonized Isthmus: A mixed-media piece illustrating the relationships between 1,000-year-old effigy mounds and the current road system.
  • Tree Map of Ho-Chunk and Colonized Isthmus: A view through the dense, present-day tree cover to the historic bur oak savanna.
  • “Free The 350” Decarceration Map of Madison: This gigantic woodcut map was printed in a public performance about eliminating racism in our criminal justice system.
  • “Day in the Life” Homeless Map of Madison: Madison mapped out in the daily paths of people experiencing homelessness as they work, live, and move through the city.

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As activists, we want to provide another way for people in Madison to engage in the conversation about race and (in)equity in our city which was recently provoked by the Race to Equity Report (Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, 2013). As an artist and a geographer with 22 years combined experience doing social justice work, we want to explore mapmaking as the common ground between our respective fields.

A city is a living thing. More than a body (and more than a collection of bodies), more than a home (and more than any block of houses), a city is experienced and lived differently according to each different body within it. And a city’s people (and their bodies) will move and be moved, root and be uprooted, transgress and be transgressed, according to the power imbued in those different perspectives. This is the hidden anatomy of a city, and it informs our questions as an artist and a geographer:

  • Who has the power to move, and the power to settle?
  • What (in)visible lines transect the city? Who enforces and who crosses these lines?
  • How does a place direct a life, and where is ours directing us?
  • What can spatial relations tell us about social relations?

We have chosen cartography as our tool for asking these questions because maps illuminate a city’s life and offer differing perspectives. Maps are its x-ray images and diagnostic charts, its family trees and its self-portraits. Mapmaking is a city’s journal, necessary for self-inquiry and directed by a self-imposed agenda. We are not concerned with “objective” mapping because we believe that a map is always subjective, necessarily informed by its authors and viewers. Instead, we aim for critical cartography – to ask not only how our city looks through varied eyes, but also how these visions are produced by, and enacted on, bodies.

Every map has a stated purpose, and ours will be race as it is lived within the collective body of Madison. This is a consciously political project in that it aims to reveal the exchange of power between people, and how these dynamics (re)produce our city spaces. It is also a decidedly artistic project that will expand our definition of mapmaking and the visual representation of information. Using a critical cartographic lens and a fine art process based in layering and duplication, we seek to offer a productive intervention in Madison. We will do this in two ways: By examining the assumptions and the powers behind dominant discourses and practices of the city, and then illustrating these in a visual response to be added back to the city itself. We see this as a project of memory, of alternative narratives, of legacy, and of social justice.


Two of our maps were created through public events. Making our “Homeless” map we invited people experiencing homelessness to draw their daily path through Madison over a base map of the city’s streets, which we later removed, leaving only their drawings to represent the city. Our “Free the 350” Decarceration map was a large-scale woodcut we printed with the participation of other activists, artists, and members of the public.


On November 3rd, we got together with prison abolition activists to do a trial run of the “Decarceration” print:

[ Video by Z! Haukeness ]

On the 4th of July, during the Dane County Farmer’s Market, we held a public event to print another Decarceration map. We walked 350 times over the block in accordance with the demand of the Young Gifted and Black coalition, that Dane County end racial disparities in the jails by released 350 people of color who are incarcerated for crimes of poverty. Our movements echoed the movement of those inmates walking free.

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In addition to our funders, we would like to thank the following people and organizations for their invaluable insight, political analysis, research assistance, and support:

Aaron Bird Bear, Wisconsin State Historical Society, Madison Central Library, Lisa Mettauer, Trent Miller, Karin Wolf, Keith Woodward, Polka Press, Madison Mutual Drift, Z! Haukeness, No Dane County Jails, Brian Standing and 89.9 FM WORT, Artist & Craftsman Supply, and Nick Surgey.


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