Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Behind Bars: prisoner artwork and works of art and literature on the topic of the BC Penitentiary

Because of my research into various historical crimes in British Columbia, I have become  interested the history in prisons and prisoners in our province. So, when I was in Kamloops a few weeks ago for the British Columbia Historical Federation Conference, and I heard about a new exhibit at Arnica Artist Run Centre, I had to take a look.

The art exhibit Behind Bars: (Prisoner Artwork and Works of Art and Literature on the Topic of the BC Penitentiary) is a mixture of items and artworks made within the penitentiary and work by contemporary artists and writers about BC Penitentiary

Prisoners made various types of art including cartoons, paintings and more. It is moving and chilling to realize the isolation and effort of the prisoners, and yet who still were able to produce art under these circumstances. The prisoner art was collected by former correctional officer Anthony Martin

Another part of the Behind Bars exhibit is by contemporary artists who, reflecting on archival items from the Anthony Martin collection from the BC Penitentiary, used various media to explain or understand the items. 

You can see mugshots of prisoners from the 1940s and 1950s, interpreted by artist Erin Busswood. The prisoners' black and white photographs are emphasized by the addition of coloured leaves and foliage. 

In a similar reflection, artist Kristina Bradshaw discovered and took photographs of numbered graves. Bradshaw found the forgotten graveyard hidden in a residential area in new Westminster covered in weeds and grass. The graves are now uncovered, and presented in a stark series of digital photos. This was, to me, a memorable way of stating just how anonymous the men were. Not only were their graves unnamed, they had been formerly lost to time.

In keeping with the theme, pages from the book Sentences and Paroles: A Prison Reader are displayed and discussed. The book, edited by P.J. Murphy and Jennifer Murphy is a riveting collection that allows the reader a look into a maximum security penitentiary. The book features contributions from  Stephen Reid, Evelyn Lau, Brian Fawcett, Sharon Pollock, Andreas Schroeder, Susan Musgrave, J. Michael Yates, Claire Culhane, and many others, including past and present prisoners and their keepers at the British Columbia Penitentiary, BC'’s notorious "Pen".

The show Behind Bars is running at Arnica until  is running June 15th.