Given a world prison population of some 10m, this short-lived exhibition in Toronto (too distant for me to see in person) might well have deserved a tour, or at least a run that outlasted a conference.
The winning entry in their 2011 competition shows a powerful contrast between the finitude of captivity and the infinite reach of art. For some prisoners, clearly, painting provides an escape.
Michael Connelly’s piece shows a journey by brush, imaginative journeys being the best available to those in the penal system, and this starts off simply enough with an idyllic beach scene.
But the artist goes much further than this classic therapeutic image. He takes us beneath the waves where sharks swim along with dolphins, then takes us to a distant rocky shore.
Here sit three aboriginal figures round a campfire. This camp echoes the circular from which the whole work begins. Perhaps this detail allows Connelly to somehow commune with the outside world.
But it is difficult to speculate about someone else’s cosmology. What goes on upstream is not clear to me; that might be the purging fire of some kind of redemption. I hope so for everyone’s sake.
On a more pragmatic level, it must have surely been refreshing for the 130 artists in this show to be judged for their art and not for their crimes. And for society to do the same makes a nice change for the rest of us as well.
International Prisoner Art Exhibit was held at The Campbell House, Toronto, during the annual convocation of contest organisers the Prison Fellowship International.