Prison art exhibition curated by victims

26 November, 2010

The latest national exhibition of prison art by the United Kingdom's Koestler Trust was curated by victims of crime.

The ground-breaking exhibition was held at the Royal Festival Hall at London’s Southbank Centre from late September to mid-November.

The seven curators were people from the London area whose lives were changed by serious offences – including domestic violence and murder --  against them or their families. The curators, referred to the project by charities that work with victims and restorative justice, had not met each other before, and most had no previous experience in the arts.

With training from the Southbank Centre artist-in-residence, the volunteers gained curating skills, selected the exhibits from thousands and designed the look of the exhibition.

Sharing their experiences

They also created contextual texts and gave talks and tours to the public, sharing their experiences of working on the project.

One of the curators, Vanessa Pearson, said she used to believe prisoners should not be given any privileges, as they didn’t deserve it.

“Now I believe activities like art can make a big difference to offenders in a good way.”

All the works in the exhibition had been made in the last year, and covered 56 art forms, including film, music and writing, as well as visual arts.

Creative use of materials

Creativity was also displayed in the methods used to create some of the works. One artist used 25 biro pens. The refill parts of the pens were taken out, water was added to the ink, and tissue paper used to blend the colours. The blank canvas it was painted on was created out of a bed sheet strectched over a wooden frame, and painted with emulsion paint.

An inmate of Kilmarnock Prison in Scotland created a tree from a bunch of discarded Magic Tree car air fresheners.

Each entrant was sent a participation certificate, many received written feedback, and the most talented were offered a Koestler mentor to help them continue in the arts after release from custody.

Visitors were invited to vote for extra awards sponsored by a charitable programme run by the owners of one of Britain’s largest construction companies.

One exhibitor, from Wolds Prison in Humberside, said he couldn’t draw or write “at any level” before prison.

“I have been given hope by art – it's my future. Being recognised as a talent by Koestler means so much to me.”


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