I stitch flesh onto ghosts, rendering physical details of my great-grandmothers’ stories missing from my mainstream history education.

Women imprisoned after protesting for the right to vote practiced hunger strikes, starved, and were force-fed raw eggs and milk. Surviving testimonials report horrific experiences of pain and suffocation. Still, the women endured daily feedings until the administration yielded.

Women legally convicted as “common scolds” were punished for voicing social criticisms or writing political analyses. They were imprisoned, fined, publicly shamed, banished, and dunked into bodies of water using archaic contraptions.

Using artist-made tools, live—as events (“performance”), I observe women’s achievements. Or, I pair lifecasts of contemporary bodies with representations of historical data. This gesture is like taking a fingerprint—as evidence of being, in time—and mashing it up with objects whose roles in past narratives help reveal gendered limits on speech and legal equality.

These works are in themselves testimonies: I am an evolved form of woman mindfully eating the fruits of earlier struggles.


Recent works include The Mouth of the Scold, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. for its “IDENTIFY: Performance Art As Portraiture” series, curated by Dorothy Moss.

The piece is one chapter in a body of research and performance on the history of the “common scold” offense, a gender-based misdemeanor charge used to punish “outspoken” women. McCracken repurposes a ducking stool—an archaic punishment device that looks like a see-saw with a chair on one end that is plunged into a body of water. Using it as a lift during the performance, the artist accesses a space high on a wall in the museum’s Great Hall and installs a portrait of a woman among traditional monuments to men. The woman depicted in McCracken’s portrait is Marion B. Dunlevy, the first woman exonerated of the common scold charge (1972) for its unconstitutionality.

J.J. McCracken is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, recently including a fellowship from the Prince George’s Arts & Humanities Council (2018), a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Sculpture (2014), a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (2011/12), and two grants from the Puffin Foundation (2013 and 2011). McCracken holds a bachelors degree in Anthropology from The College of William and Mary (1995) and an M.F.A. in Studio Art from The George Washington University (2005). She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2012. 

J.J. McCracken is Co-Director of Red Dirt Studio in Mt. Rainier, Maryland, and is represented by CONNERSMITH in Washington, D.C.