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If Kate MacDonald had to pick her last meal, it would be a lobster roll.
“I go back and forth all of the time on this in my head, I am from the Miramichi so I think I’d really just want a lobster roll,” said MacDonald.
Miramichi native Macdonald painted the last meals of American convicts on death row in an exhibition hanging in the Yellow Box Gallery on the St. Thomas University campus. This is the first time the exhibition is being hung together in its entirety. Several pieces have made their way as far as Texas, California and Pakistan to be shown.
“I’m just hoping it opens a dialogue about the death penalty,” says MacDonald. “I know we don’t have it in Canada anymore but that doesn’t mean it can’t be brought back and I think it’s really important for us to be aware of what our neighbours to the south and internationally are doing.”
She researched what they requested to eat before their execution, prepared the meal herself then proceeded to eat what she could. She said she now has a collection of the cafeteria style trays in which she ate the meals on.
MacDonald hopes her art will start conversations about the death penalty. Her first pieces were focused on people who were wrongfully convicted but realized in order to take a stand against capital punishment she’d have to delve into the guilty as well.
“I think it’s wrong, because we have life without a parole,” says MacDonald. “And the penal system is so strong we don’t really have to worry about people escaping… Once someone has been apprehended and found guilty there’s little chance they’ll be found back in society.”
During her research, she discovered the opportunities for discrepancies in the justice system, and how a crime is investigated.
“The more I worked on that, the more I realized there were all of these other cases where things like race, mental competence, evidence tampering were impacting people who were convicted and whether they were guilty was secondary” said MacDonald.
The death penalty was abolished in Canada in 1976. Capital punishment is still used in some places in the United States which is the focus of the exhibition. Last meals are not always granted to convicts depending on where they’re penitentiary is, and the people who are able to choose usually have limits.
“It depends on the state. Within the realm of being able to pick there’s limit,” said MacDonald. “Some have $40 on the meal, some won’t allow take out and some other states, like Texas, don’t allow it at all.”
The most interesting case that MacDonald chose to paint was of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted for killing his three children in a house fire.
“As it turns out they later found that the fire was likely accidental. Now, Texas hasn’t come out and said he was innocent although there’s been a forensic commission set up to look into it. The governor, Rick Perry, has continually thwarted the members of that commission by appointing and replacing them as they get close to making a decision on that case.”
MacDonald says the reaction to her works have been positive.
“I’ve been really lucky in that I haven’t received much criticism… I generally receive a pretty warm response.”
The paintings are in the yellow box gallery until November 12.