Molly Crabapple

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Molly Crabapple, self portrait

Molly Crabapple (born Jennifer Caban, September 13, 1983) is an artist, author and investigative journalist who works across various artistic media to create unique stories and expose injustices around the world. She describes her sketchbook as a "lock pick" that can bring light to issues that would otherwise remain hidden, noting how illustrations are not as closely monitored as photographs in high-security places like Guantánamo Bay.[1]

In a 2018 Rolling Stone video, she said, "I think my through-line is a dislike of people in authority that are doing wrong to others, doing wrong to those who are powerless and I think that that, perhaps more than anything else, that desire to challenge authority unjustly deployed is behind my motivation as a journalist."[2]

In a 2017 interview, Crabapple said, "A lot of my work over the past few years has had to do with conflict, protest, war, incarceration."[3]

In a 2016 interview, she said, "If there’s a theme in my work, it’s that I like to focus on smart people who are facing oppression and who are fighting back against it."[4]

Education and Career

After graduating high school, Crabapple traveled to Europe and the Middle East,[5] worked as an artist, model and burlesque performer[6][7] and briefly attended the Fashion Institute of Technology.[5][8]

In 2005 Crabapple founded the "worldwide burlesque life drawing phenomenon"[9] Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School,[5] which had over 80 branches across the world as of 2019.[10]

Crabapple's breakout moment came from sketching the Occupy Wall Street protests.[11] Since then, she has covered "with words and art, Lebanese snipers, labor camps in Abu Dhabi, Guantanamo Bay, Syrian rebels, resistance amongst solitary confinement prisoners, the refugee crisis in Greece, and the ravages of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico."[11]

In April 2013, Crabapple held an art exhibit called "Shell Game: A Love Letter to 2011", which featured nine pieces inspired by the 2011 rebellions, including the Arab Spring, anti-austerity riots in Greece, and Occupy Wall Street.[12]

Her work has been featured, among other publications, in The Guardian,[13] The Intercept,[14] The New York Review of Books,[15] Vanity Fair[16] and VICE News.[17]

She was the Spring 2019 Artist-in-Residence for the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University.[18]


Selected Works

Written Work

Coverage of July 2019 Protests in Puerto Rico

In 2019, Crabapple attended the protests in Puerto Rico which had caused the July resignation of the territory's Governor Ricardo Rosselló.[19] The protests were largely caused by the leaking of hundreds of pages of text messages from Rosselló to other government officials. The chat log contained homophobic and sexist comments and also contained jokes about the casualties of Hurricane Maria, which had devastated the island in 2017.[20]

In the article, Crabapple explained further deep-seated motivations held by the protestors, saying: "They wanted the head of every politician that had cheated and mocked the island, whether or not they had taken part in the recently leaked texts and chat messages...Protesters repudiated Puerto Rico’s two-party system as a corrupt Punch-and-Judy show in which each side took turns to build their patronage networks and made empty promises of either statehood or greater autonomy; and they rejected, too, the neocolonial Fiscal Control Board imposed by Congress in Washington, D.C., that has been wrecking the island’s economy with austerity measures in order to service unpayable, possibly illegal debts.[19]

In her piece, Crabapple laid out the factors leading up to the protests, including Hurricane Maria, student protests in 2010, and Rosseló's corrupt administration. In response to government inaction following Maria, she explained, "Puerto Ricans turned to their neighbors and to the diaspora, creating an island-wide network of mutual aid centers that exists to this day— learning about their own strength, solidarity, and resilience in the process."[19]

She also discussed the centrality of Puerto Rico's status in relation to the U.S. in the island's politics, noting how protest chants called the Fiscal Control Board a junta. Crabapple also noted how U.S. media saw the unrest as an opportunity to argue against further independence from the United States, saying, "In the leadership vacuum created by Rosselló’s disgrace, American newspapers like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have editorialized why additional powers should be granted to the very Fiscal Control Board that the protesters wanted to dissolve."[19]

When Crabapple asked protestors what it would take to break free of the Fiscal Control Board and U.S. rule, they offered her two possible scenarios: "First, the 5 million-strong Puerto Rican diaspora now living in the US could make Puerto Rico a political issue, advocating for their families on the island, who, as colonial subjects, are not allowed to vote in federal elections. Second, Puerto Ricans can make the island ungovernable."[19]

She also described the diversity of protestors, saying, "The whole activist constellation was out: queers and socialists, environmentalists and independentistas, all the people who had marched alongside one another for so long that, up until this summer, protests felt more like family reunions. There were drag queens. There were members of the teachers’ union, whose retirees were seeing their pensions cut. There were organizers against toxic ash dumps. There were feminist activists with tape over their mouths holding hands. And there were flags: the once-banned Puerto Rican flag, now ubiquitous."[19]

Texas Border Crisis

In 2018, Crabapple visited the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where she witnessed proceedings at the Port Isabel and Harlingen immigration courts and interviewed migrants at a local bus station, where they had been released "to family in the U.S. to pursue their asylum cases from a home rather than a cell".[2]

From talking to these asylum-seekers, Crabapple reported, "a common thread that came through peoples stories [of their time in detention centers] was deliberate humiliation...deliberately making people seem poor and dirty and almost like animals."[2]

She also reported on the bureaucracy facing both asylum-seekers and media, saying she saw how bureaucracy was "weaponized" to keep journalists as far away from covering migrants as possible. She also noted how the rules surrounding her visit kept changing and she was allowed to sketch inside one courtroom one day but disallowed from doing so the next day in a different courtroom.[2]

Crabapple also pointed out how asylum-seekers, when released, were forced to wear ankle bracelets for six months that needed to be charged every twelve hours and caused discomfort, scraping, and bruising on their wearers. She also noted how these ankle bracelets were produced through "contracts with private companies that make obscene, obscene profits for them".[2]

Greek Anarchists Helping Refugees

In 2017, Crabapple told the story of asylum seekers trapped in Greek refugee camps. Her story focused on a man named Mouaz Khrayba, a Syrian refugee who documented the journey from his hometown to a camp in Samos, a Greek island off the coast of Turkey.[21] Crapapple's piece described the Samos camp as beyond capacity, with its inhabitants at the mercy of the weather, in poor sanitary conditions, and often served inedible food. She also described the bureaucratic hurdles most refugees faced, detailing the unique difficulty of Palestinian Syrians applying for asylum, as they do not receive Syrian nationality.[21]

Crabapple also discussed the mismanagement of "hundreds of millions of dollars" by the Greek government, the European Union, and Non-Governmental Organizations, saying "a great deal of this money isn't reaching those for whom it's supposedly meant; much of it hasn't even been spent. In January, the German newspaper DW found that mismanagement, indifference, and lack of coordination kept refugees in snow-covered tents, while the Greek government, the EU, and NGOs traded blame for the failures."[21]

In contrast, she highlighted the work done by lower-budget volunteer groups, often with a leftist or anarchist strain, saying, "unconstrained by the hierarchy and bureaucracy found in many NGOs and government organizations, they're able to provide many supplies one would expect to come from these larger, better-funded entities— in Samos, they supply toilet paper, diapers, milk, clothing, and sleeping bags. Until it grew financially unsustainable, they even provided the tents. They also set up cafes and movie nights, hold language classes, build furniture with refugees, and facilitate cricket matches."[21]

Crabapple also reported on her visit of an anarchist neighborhood in Exarcheia, Greece. As she described, "Walk past the cigarette stall that sells Greek translations of Angela Davis, onto the winding, graffiti convulsed streets. They are fractal in their complexity. A hijabi woman in a life jacket dominates one wall. On another, a pig policeman points his baton. One squat hangs a banner in solidarity with a US prison strike. Slogans scream in seven languages. feminism or bullshit. refugees welcome. all cops are bastards. greeks and foreigners— we live together, and work together to smash nazis, in English and Arabic. At night, Exarchion Place is packed with refugees, anarchy tourists, and longtime residents, of every color and from every corner of the globe. They drink, play with the stray dogs, and, often, clash with the cops."[21]

Life in War-Torn Aleppo

A 2016 article, drawing on voice messages from a doctor in Aleppo, Syria, described the Russian airstrikes which had devastated the city. Crabapple reported the fact that these airstrikes resulted in a "steady bombardment of civilian infrastructure", destroyed schools and hospitals, and even employed the notorious "double-tap" strategy, where "planes wait for first responders to gather, then bomb again."[22]

Crabapple also reported how the Russian and Syrian governments falsely claimed that only terrorists, not civilians, had been killed by their bombing campaigns, noting "since 911, the Muslim terrorist has become a folk devil in the international imagination, whose existence justifies any torture, military aggression, or crime."[22] She also noted the similar rhetoric and military calamities present in U.S. foreign policy, saying: "Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said of ISIS, 'We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out' [and] Donald Trump has floated the idea that he would fight terrorists by 'tak[ing] out their families.' [In February 2016], US airstrikes killed 15 when it hit a bakery in an ISIS-occupied town near the Iraqi border. [In October 2015], a US gunship razed an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 30 staff and patients."[22]

Reaction to Trump's 2016 Presidential Victory

In response to Trump's 2016 presidential victory, Crabapple claimed "this election is a verdict on the status quo" and encouraged the Democratic party to embrace radical populism and nominate "candidates who talk in real words, not Goldman Sachs platitudes".[23]

She also called on the Democratic party to learn from its "prior sins", noting, "The Democratic Clinton [administration] built mass incarceration, and the Democratic Obama administration championed assassination by drone. The deportations, the torture, the surveillance, the crony capitalism are all part of a system created by Democrats as much as Republicans, all reinforced by adult, bipartisan voices in respectable, badly cut suits."[23]

Rather than listen to "reasonable media centrists" who "dress-up as 'the resistance'" and blame Hillary Clinton's loss on "Russian-hacked gossip", Crabapple asserts that Democrats must instead rely on "real resistance... the people who fought, and are still fighting, this infrastructure. Indigenous activists. Radical lawyers. Prison solidarity networks. Abortion funds. Churches converted into sanctuary spaces. Anarchists who hold noise demonstrations outside of jails in the freezing January night, so humans inside know they are not forgotten."[23]

Investigation of New York City's Human Trafficking Intervention Courts

In a 2015 article detailed Crabapple's investigation of Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HITCs) in The Bronx and Brooklyn, New York. She reported how the creation of HITCs sought to redefine sex workers as trafficking victims, but pointed out, "Prostitutes might be called victims, but they're still arrested, still handcuffed, and still held in cages."[24] Crabapple focused her article around the story of Love, a 48-year-old black woman who had been repeatedly arrested for prostitution, pointing out how the new HITC system treated her just as poorly as the court systems preceding it.[24]

In her piece, Crabapple detailed police violence and sexual abuse against sex workers, citing a study that found "for young people who have sold sex, a third of all reported abuse came at the hands of the police."[24] She also wrote, "Sources told me officers had called women 'sluts,' groped them during arrests, even made jerking-off motions with their batons in court. In the Brooklyn HTIC, RedUP [a sex worker advocacy group] saw a black woman who claimed to have been beaten so savagely by police that she landed in the hospital."[24]

Crabapple's report also highlighted how racial profiling and gender identity played a role in unequal arrest rates among sex workers, saying, "Racial profiling is epidemic. African Americans make up 94 percent of those in Brooklyn charged with 'loitering for the purposes of prostitution.' Trans women of color are disproportionately profiled as prostitutes—and treated with unique cruelty during their arrests."[24]

She also interviewed the heads of nonprofits who provide services to sex workers, including "counseling sessions... pro bono legal help [and] a safe house for 11 women." Crabapple agreed that "These services alone have no doubt improved many lives" but pointed out how the nonprofit leaders she interviewed "believe that while the sex industry is violent against women, police are not."[24] One interviewee's advocacy group "even partners with the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement."[24] As this interviewee claimed, "similar to the police, I feel like ICE, FBI, law enforcement, and the court system do and can play a very good and beneficial role in our society. And they're often led by people with a lot of honor and integrity."[24]

Crabapple also asserted: "In the name of helping women, the anti-trafficking movement has endorsed surveillance. They've shuttered websites where sex workers advertise or organize. They support brothel raids, police, and NGOs that have chucked overseas prostitutes into sweatshops."

She ended her piece with a quotation from Love who wondered, "When will prostitution be legal?... These are petty crimes. It's a waste of taxpayers' money. It's a waste of manpower. It's just a freaking waste."[24]

Guantanamo Bay Prison Visits

First Visit

In 2013, Crabapple visited the Guantanamo Bay prison twice. In her first report, she focused on the story of Nabil Hadjarab, a young man who had been convicted on shaky evidence. Hadjarab was traveling in Afghanistan when the September 11, 2001 attacks happened. After the U.S. offered bounties for "thousands of dollars a head", Hadjarab was turned over by Afghani townspeople to Aghan forces.[25] Hadjarab was tortured by Afghani and U.S. forces alike and eventually transferred to Guantanamo Camp Xray.

Crabapple detailed the history of torture in Guantanamo Camps X-Ray and Delta faced by Hadjarab and others, saying, "Americans practiced short-shackling, stress positions, dry-boarding (stuffing rags down a man's throat and taping his nose and mouth shut), and sexual humiliation. Female interrogators molested detainees and smeared them with fake menstrual blood... Former detainee Ruhal Ahmed described being chained in a squatting position and left for days to defecate on himself while dogs growled in his face. A [legal] memo... "describes water-boarding, using extreme heat and cold, beatings— termed 'non-injurious physical contact'—and convincing the detainee that his family was in danger of torture or death as totally A-OK once approved."[25]

As Crabapple reported, "by 2009, Gitmo somewhat resembled a US prison, with collective living, a soccer field, and a library." However, prisoners had begun a hunger strike, which one of the detainee's lawyers called "the culmination of 12 years of abuse, the end to which none of them can see. They believe they will be there forever, helpless, humiliated, stripped of their humanity."[25]

The hunger strike left several detainees, including Hadjarab, so weak that the guards force-fed them. As Crabapple described, "Twice a day, guards tie Nabil to a chair and push his head back. Doctors shove a length of surgical tubing through his nose, down his throat, and into his stomach. Then they pump a can of Ensure through the tube. [He is] left tied to the chair until he has digested the Ensure."[25]

Crabapple's piece also described her presence at the hearings of Khalid Sheik Mohammad, saying "trials don't conform to American standards of fairness. At Gitmo, innocent bleeds into guilty. A young man traveling on a whim, like Nabil Hadjarab, is equivalent to the mastermind of 9/11." As she pointed out, Mohammad had, in 2002, "bragged on Al Jazeera about masterminding 9/11. Forensic vein matching proves his hand beheaded journalist Daniel Pearl. In [Mohammad's] case, unlike most prisoners held at Gitmo, there's enough evidence of his atrocities to make torture-derived confessions superfluous. Yet today he's held in the same prison as Nabil and 145 other men who will never be charged with a crime."[25]

Second Visit

Later in 2013, shortly after Hadharab's release, Crabapple visited the prison again. She went on what she described as "a carefully choreographed tour— the point of which is to show that the Bad Old Gitmo of public perception is not Gitmo Now."[26] In her piece, she mocked the attempt to change the prison's public image, saying "Detainees may stay in Gitmo now until they die. But on the bright side, they get condiment packets with their meals: honey and olive oil!"

She also questioned the use of "humane", the prison's "new catchword", commenting, "Of Gitmo, the best the JTF [the Joint Task Force] can say is that it resembles a US prison— though one in which the prisoners don't know if they'll ever go home."

She also highlighted the remaining secrecy surrounding the prison, saying, "Behind electrically locking doors, detainees have lived out a decade in legal limbo. They are banned from speaking to the press. Visiting journalists sign contracts saying they will ignore any attempt at communication, though detainees try." Crabapple concluded the piece in part by saying, "Guards come and go. Contractors leave. Journalists chase other stories. The detainees alone preserve Gitmo's darkest memories. But JTF forbids them from communicating them to the outside world."[26]

Additional Written Work

Crabapple's additional selected written work can be found on her website.


A Message from the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush

Why Solitary Confinement is Modern Day Torture

Additional Animations

Crabapple's additional animation work can be found on her website.


Occupy Wall Street Art:[27]

From her 2011 Shell Game exhibition:

The Business of Illness
Debt and her Debtors
Great American Bubble Machine
The Hivemind
Our Lady of Liberty Park
A New England

Additional Illustrations

Crabapple's additional illustration work can be found on her her website.

Contact and Social Media

Facebook: @mollycrabappleart
Instagram: @mollycrabapple
Twitter: @mollycrabapple

External Links



Related SourceWatch


  1. Charlotte Alter, The Journalist Drawing the World, Time, October 6, 2016, accessed August 27, 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Molly Crabapple, "Scenes From an American Tragedy: The Texas Border Crisis", Rolling Stone, September 2, 2018, accessed January 31, 2020.
  3. Kristin Iversen, How Molly Crabapple Uses Her Art As A Weapon Against Injustice , Nylon, November 14, 2017, accessed August 27, 2019.
  4. Sarah Galo, Molly Crabapple: Up in Arms, Guernica, February 1, 2016, accessed August 27, 2019.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Carol Kino, A World Drawn From Wild Tastes, New York Times, OCtober 4, 2009, accessed August 26, 2019.
  6. Rachel Kramer Bussel, Molly Crabapple, Artist, Model, Burlesque Performer, Gothamist, December 22, 2005, accessed August 26, 2019.
  7. Talya Zax, Molly Crabapple Explains How You Can Be an Artist and an Activist, Forward, April 16, 2016, accessed August 26, 2019.
  8. Molly Crabapple, The World of a Professional Naked Girl, VICE, October 23, 2012, accessed August 28, 2019.
  9. Jay Hathaway, The Rumpus Interview with Molly Crabapple, Rumpus, November 3, 2009, accessed August 27, 2019.
  10. Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, Branch List, organizational website, accessed August 27, 2019.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Molly Crabapple About, "Molly Crabapple", accessed August 26, 2019.
  12. Molly Crabapple, Molly Crabapple’s 'SHELL GAME' Opens Tomorrow in NYC, VICE, April 13, 2013, accessed August 28, 2019.
  13. Guardian, Molly Crabapple, organizational website, accessed August 26, 2019.
  14. The Intercept, Molly Crabapple, organizational website, accessed August 26, 2019.
  15. New York Review of Books Molly Crabapple, organizational website, accessed August 26, 2019.
  16. Vanity Fair Molly Crabapple, organizational website, accessed August 26, 2019.
  17. Molly Crabapple, organizational website, accessed August 26, 2019.
  18. Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, Molly Crabapple: Is Al Andalus a Place or a Poem?, organizational website, accessed August 26, 2019.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 Molly Crabapple, "‘A People’s Cry of Indignation’: A Dispatch from Puerto Rico", New York Review of Books, August 9, 2019, accessed January 31, 2020.
  20. Shira Tarlo, "Puerto Ricans mobilize mass protest to demand resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló", Salon, July 22, 2017, accessed January 31, 2020.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Molly Crabapple, Greece's Anarchists Are Taking Better Care of Refugees Than the Government, "VICE", March 9, 2017, accessed January 30, 2020.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Molly Crabapple, What Life Is Like Inside the Besieged, War-Torn Syrian City of Aleppo, "VICE", February 29, 2016, accessed January 30, 2020.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Molly Crabapple, Trump's here. We have four years to write a better story, "Guardian", January 20, 2016, accessed January 30, 2020.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 24.6 24.7 24.8 Molly Crabapple, Special Prostitution Courts and the Myth of 'Rescuing' Sex Workers,"VICE", January 5, 2015, accessed January 31, 2020.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 Molly Crabapple, "It Don’t Gitmo Better Than This", VICE, July 31, 2013, accessed January 31, 2020.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Molly Crabapple, Inside a Guantanamo Bay Prison Tour- Molly Crabapple Returns to Guantanamo Bay, "VICE", September 10, 2013, accessed January 31, 2020.
  27. Maud Newton, How Occupy Changed Contemporary Art, New Republic, April 13, 2013, accessed August 27, 2019.