"From a certain angle, the premise seems almost cruel: invite prisoners on death row to design their own memorials — ways for them to be remembered after they’ve been executed. This means asking them to confront not just their own mortality, but the state’s hand in ensuring it; to imagine not only the reality of their deaths, but a time beyond it. Yet, if Life After Death and Elsewhere suggests anything, it’s that this process may offer a release. These men are already thinking about death, after all — two paintings that feature the grim reaper assure us of that. Now at least they have somewhere to channel their thoughts."
Since 2007, the Karachi Central Jail has been running an art school for prison inmates. Their works have been displayed at exhibitions at the Karachi Alliance Francaise, among other venues. More samples of the work can be seen on the art school's Facebook page.
Bargeloads of art and exhibit materials have been going out to the former prison island of Alcatraz recently, all for an imprisonment- and human rights- and freedom of expression-themed exhibit by Chinese activist dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who designed and directed the installation while remaining under detention in Beijing. The barged materials include over a million Lego blocks, assembled in San Francisco.
What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now? "With all eyes on Russia, two members of the country’s most notorious band of shit-stirrers are free after nearly two years of political imprisonment and enjoying the rock-star treatment during their first trip to the U.S. But the group’s unlikely journey from art-school project to international icons shows just how rotten Russia has become and how much the mission has changed."
Artist Amy Elkinsbegan corresponding in 2009 with prisoners on death row in California. Of the seven men with whom Elkins made contact in June 2009, she remains in touch with only one, Freddy, who has been held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay since 1995, when he was 16 years of age. Freddy has been incarcerated since he was 13. Parting Words is "a visual archive of the 500+ prisoners to date executed in the state of Texas."
On The Tamms Poetry Committee: "One of the artists' initiatives was "photo requests from solitary." Prisoners on solitary would request photos and professional photographers would then shoot the request and send the photo back. The gallery of prisoners requests is surprising and poignant."
'At Angola Prison in Louisiana, model inmates or "trustees" are encouraged to participate in "hobby craft" as a part of their rehabilitation. Hobby craft is an arts program that involves painting, wood & leather working, taxidermy, furniture building, and many other disciplines.In many cases, they are given special workshops, tools and even private studios to work in.The goods are sold to the public at the prison’s annual rodeo and art fair. The money raised is then split mainly between inmates' families and prison administration, with the inmates themselves receiving only a small amount to buy more materials for the next fair. A sad irony is that this rehabilitation will rarely benefit the prisoners in the outside world because 90% of them have life sentences, and will end up being laid to rest at "The Farm."' A photographic essay.
From over here on this side of the wall, you all have made many of us feel human once again. Thank you so much for that.
"There are general feelings of hostility and hopelessness in prisons today and it is getting worse with overcrowding. . . Art workshops and similar programs help take us out of this atmosphere and we become like any other free person expressing our talents. Being in prison is the final ride downhill unless one can resist the things around him and learn to function in a society which he no longer has any contact with. Arts programs for many of us may be the final salvation of our minds from prison insanity. It's contact with the best of the human race. It is something that says that we, too, are still valuable." [more inside]
“There is nothing like this in the United States," said Leone. "We’ve looked." The Workhouse Arts Center near Occoquan, VA opened in September 2008 on the grounds of a former prison that was founded by President Theodore Roosevelt as a rehabilitation facility for Washington, DC criminals. Its extensive agrarian projects were intended to put them in touch with nature, but by 1917 security tightened and suffragettes protesting before the White House endured harsh treatment there. The city continued sending inmates to the overcrowded facility until Congress ordered the prison to be shuttered. For years it stood empty, but now the historic buildings are being transformed into studios for local artists (previously).
You’d need years to really study these murals of Califonia’s history - the artist certainly had a lot a free time to create them. You'd probably also need a special invitation to engage in a multi-year study in the gallery - and you probably don't want one.
Burmese artist Htein Lin was imprisoned by his country's military government from 1998 to 2004 on charges of planning opposition protests. In prison he was forced to improvise to continue painting, using paints smuggled in by guards and white cotton prison uniforms as canvases. In place of brushes he used his fingers, cigarette lighters, syringes, pieces of netting, dinner plates, and blocks of soap. Burma Inside Out (PDF), an exhibition of some of his prison work, will be on display at the Asia House Gallery in London from July 27 to October 13.