Unusual for a group exhibition – none of the artists turned up for the opening – but I was there myself and there was a great buzz, with speeches and applause, canapés, smoked salmon and all that jazz.
People felt very proud (I was delighted myself when I saw one particular piece on display). Everyone said that it was a great achievement – but a great pity that the artists themselves weren’t there to see it.
And if you were wondering why that was, well, it’s because they are all still in prison. It was an exhibition of artworks made by people in prison and it was entitled: “Humans sharing Spaces”, a joint initiative by the Irish Prison Service Education Centres and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
I did an Arts Council project in Cloverhill Prison last year, working with the prisoners to produce artworks for this exhibition. The piece you saw at the top is by John (we can’t use his full name) but would you believe that John had never done art before this project!
He told me that the tower at the bottom of the collage was known locally as “the Cup and Saucer” in his hometown, and that he saw the flying doves in a book about Magritte… Of all the works in the show (and there were hundreds more submitted), I was delighted that this piece got selected. Congratulations John.
It’s always a bit of a rollercoaster ride working in a prison. When you think of it: hundreds of (mostly) young men living in close proximity with strangers; lonely for their loved ones; possibly trying to deal with an addiction; maybe traumatised by some unresolved incident – it can be very difficult for them to come to grips with this new situation.
But in the art class, there’s a supportive atmosphere. We talk about mixing colours. We talk about the home place, about dreams, about the great artists… For a few hours, we forget about the present and we venture into a world of new possibilities. We begin to make art.
The exhibition continues until the 26th of March in the prestigious CHQ Building in Dublin and I’m told that it will tour to some other venues later on in the year.