by Ros Barthelmy
PRISON ART AND THE KOSTLER TRUST.
The Kostler Trust is the UK's best-known prison arts charity who have been awarding, exhibiting and selling artworks by offenders, detainees and secure patients for over 50 years. Kostler awards receive over 8,000 entries a year - inspiring offenders to take part in the arts, work for achievement and transform their lives. The national exhibition attracts 20,000 visitors - showing the public the talent and potential of offenders and people in secure settings.
It was not so much of a surprise see to the quality, standard, theme, diversity and content of the entrants work but more so for me as I wondered around the exhibition, that the overall majority of work was labelled this year as "anonymous". This in itself interested me and left me wondering more about why the majority of these talented individuals chose not to sign or identify themselves and take ownership of their personal and expressive art work.
As this is the 5th year that the prestigious and highly recognised Koestler Awards have held this exhibition at the South Bank Centre, London, I wondered was this not a secure enough platform for these untrained artists to identify themselves through their art work. Surely the Koestler Awards portrays its entrants work with dignity and well meaning, as an exhibition to highlight the talent from a spectrum of people that for whatever reason have found themselves to be detained as prisoners, detainees or inhabitants of secure units.
I wonder if here too, in the realm of the Arts world if there is a double standard, a judgment, even fear, an insecurity, a class separation which appears to have unfolded also to the unassuming visitor to such an exhibition. I wonder if there is an underlying sense of mistrust, fear and of danger...
On reflection, I have decided to focus not so much on the context of the art work, but this time from a Person Centred perspective, exploring some of the core conditions of this approach and the impact that this exhibition may have unconsciously fostered for further thought...
For me, the Art by Offenders exhibitions highlight a well-meaning and deservedly sensitive and respectful portrayal of the lives, feelings and emotions of the people who find themselves behind bars, locked doors and in the “system.” However, from this exhibition, I am left with feelings of another perspective, of a deeper curiosity of what for me appears to be a further layer of emotional expression which seems to have revealed itself to me.
Thoughts of a social context, a formal context, restraint cross my mind. I wonder how “secure” these detainees feel, to choose not to identify themselves through such rich and wonderful art, which in itself appears to be fully accepted by the wider community as Art. However, I wonder, is it that these untrained artists feel that their work will be accepted and understood, but yet they themselves perhaps make a judgment about themselves as being not acceptable to the audience, being judged by the public, wider society who come to view their work.
Despite the fact that the public, myself included wait in anticipation each year, to make an informed choice and decision to visit and view the work of the entrants, yet somehow this still may not mean enough for the artists behind this work to reveal a crucial part of themselves and name their identity. I wonder about the conditions of worth of some of the entrants?
I wonder what this really says. Is this a true, a real reflection of the divide between those on the inside, those detained within societies, sub cultures, institutions compared to those “on the out” - those with the ability of choice with regards to their freedom and not in the misfortune of being incarcerated? I wonder about people being incarcerated by their actions, rightly or wrongly, those incarcerated within their mental and physical health. Entrapment and being entrapped...
I wonder what this says about people, in this case the entrants, being given the opportunity to freely express themselves through art and the obviously clear therapeutic benefits and at times release of thought and emotion, that somehow, this exhibition left me this time, with deeper feelings of curiousness of what appears to remain behind the exhibition. Perhaps an unspoken message or statement that may need some reflection and attention.
What does this reveal about the entrant’s identity? Judgment or being judged, by whom? By themselves? I wonder where the entrant’s internal locus of evaluation lies within this context. And how perhaps self-fulfilling prophesy comes into play here. I make reference to one entrant’s work whereby he expressed the phrase “once a con, always a con...”
I wonder too about the audience I see around me viewing this exhibition. I make judgments about who they are, why are they here. I even find myself asking the question, do they even deserve to be here? It fascinates me. I wonder what gives me the feeling of righteousness to be here, to be amongst what is for me such personal representations of art work, extensions of the private and valuable self of others, perhaps less fortunate as they are behind bars of sorts. So many questions, thoughts. Wider reflections to consider.
I thought the titles of the work were equally interesting. The titles of the work seemed to replace that of the majority of the entrant’s identities. I wonder about the time spent on entrants naming their work in comparison to the importance for me, of the entrants revealing and naming themselves. I found myself being curious about the entrants, as if something of them was still missing and instead looking for meaning in comparison with the titles of the work in the absence of their identity.
I make comparisons with this year’s exhibition to last year’s exhibition. I think about the relational depth that the audience has with the entrants. I think about identity, the self, parts of the self, and the existential self. What a person, the entrant is prepared to reveal. Is it ok, is it safe to reveal to express themselves through their art work, but not to reveal their personal identity, their name but curiously instead to take time to name the work of each piece with such thought?
I again recognised the immense talent that the exhibition clearly portrayed, however a part of me left with a sense of sadness; as if the exhibition, the platform may not have been a wholly, equally, secure setting for the majority of the individuals to have felt safe enough to reveal their name, a valuable part of their identity.
I do recognise however, that to be fully congruent, I too have to reflect on my apparent need and curiosity for the importance of the entrants to reveal and name this part of their personal identity. Because a name is just a name, I would not necessary make a connection with an entrants name, it may have no meaning to me in particular, it would probably make no difference as to the artist’s work compared to the personable story behind the entrant, such as where and why the entrant came to be detained by Her Majesty.
What lies within a name, a label, a number? I wonder if it is that I would be proud to be able to exhibit the entrant’s self-worth, ability, recognition and potential of worth and growth? So is that more about me, my identity and worth or that of the entrants?”
LARGE SCALE COLLAGES
1-30 May 2011
OPEN MONDAY-FRIDAY 9:00 – 18:00
Bernie Grant Arts Centre
Town Hall Approach Road, London, N15 4RX
Telephone 0208 365 5450
Ros Barthelmy graduated from St Martin’s School of Art after completing a 4 year BA (HONS) Sandwich Degree in Fashion Design and Marketing. After a number of years working in design, Ros went on to work as an artist with children and young people in education who were disaffected, experiencing difficulties or displaying challenging behaviour within mainstream learning. Ros developed creative art responses with children and young people to support their learning difficulties and challenging behaviour.
Through working with children Ros became aware that by giving constructive feedback to the children’s parents, she found herself often supporting the parents with parenting and social issues that were impacting on their children’s social and emotional behaviour. This family support progressed to Ros moving on to working and intensively supporting families as a family support co-ordinator. After 11 years of supporting families and coordinating services, Ros chose to extend her professional skills further and decided to combine her love of working creatively and supporting people and explore Art Therapy, which she then did.
Ironically, Ros found a metaphor with her professional experience of working with families who are affected by mental health and relationship breakdowns with her own artistic style coinciding with her long association and inspiration of Sub Cultures and Street Decay. This connection has subsequently gone on further to inspire her mixed media collages, some of which are exhibited here today. Whilst exploring art therapy, Ros found the therapeutic benefits of art and therapies. It is this discovery that led Ros to develop her own concept of “Social Art Therapy” and form her company nurcha.it which works with marginalised groups of people to bring about personal growth and social change.
Through the application of using various materials, Ros has developed a unique artistic style that uses a variety of techniques to express her emotional responses to mood and environmental factors - inspired by random images and textures that are often found deteriorated within urban street environments. Layers of worn, peeling paint, advertising posters that expose interesting hidden marks go towards inspiring Ros to manipulate and re-work her collages to produce similar effects. Ros often finds herself relating this therapeutic process to the complexities of keeping or burying personal “stuff” that can be explored or revealed at a later stage...
“We all “keep” things, whether it is our choice to “keep” these things to ourselves - or to “reveal” these things... Equally some of these things, these random marks and images may never come to light to reveal their meaning...”. Ros prefers to use a spontaneous, unstructured approach to creating her art work. “...Beauty and meaning are in the eye of the beholder; therefore this collection of artwork is for the voyeur to gain either; an aesthetic appreciation of the work, to enjoy it or to find themselves being curious to unfold the possibilities of the works potential meaning. - Alternatively, one may choose just to walk by...”
ART BY OFFENDERS, SECURE PATIENTS AND DETAINEES FROM THE 2015 KOESTLER AWARDS
1 Oct — 29 Nov 2015
Royal Festival Hall
South Bank Centre
London SE1 8XX
RE:FORM is the UK’s annual national showcase of arts by prisoners, offenders on community sentences, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees. It is the eighth exhibition in an ongoing partnership between the Koestler Trust and Southbank Centre.
This year’s show was curated by Southbank Centre and the Koestler Trust to showcase many of the pieces chosen for Koestler Awards by over 150 arts professionals including Carol Ann Duffy, Speech Debelle, the BFI and Hot Chip. Specially commissioned texts by artists Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, curator and writer Shama Khanna, editor of Afterall Books Caroline Woodley and Koestler Award-winner Ben add insight and context.
Working alongside Southbank Centre exhibition hosts, to welcome visitors and invigilate the exhibition, are ex-offenders, specially recruited, trained and employed by the Koestler Trust. As well as gaining unique work experience and new skills, the hosts deepen visitors’ engagement with the exhibition, enabling audiences to hear first-hand how the arts reflect and enrich the lives of people in secure and criminal justice settings.
Art by Offenders – A Therapeutic Approach
Article written by Ros Barthelmy. November 2015.
I must admit with regret, that I was somewhat disappointed with this year’s 2015 exhibition, however I must stress that my thoughts are in no way intended to cause offence or undermine the extreme talent and commitment of the entrants which should only be in my view, be fully respected and commended.
I have struggled as I have wondered what caused me to form this opinion, whether it was because each year I eagerly await and anticipate visiting the exhibition as a highlight of my cultural calendar or that indeed I felt disappointed because I like any other visitor am entitled to feel such uncomfortable feelings of disappointment if indeed they are true to myself at the time despite with regret that I felt this way.
Obviously art can be and mostly is to the majority of those with any interest in it, is a personal experience that can evoke a range of feelings and emotions at any one time which in turn can also change over time.
Art is a unique entity that comes in various mediums that can provoke, enthuse or stimulate reactions and responses that can offend, heal or make one react in an unexpected way, all of which make art quite a powerful medium and perhaps controversial at times. Art and taste is a subjective platform in which pictures, visuals, statements and sound can be made is such a way that only if you engage in the stimuli can you can see, feel or get a sense of what is trying to be portrayed by the artist.
I took the opportunity to read some of the comments made by the invigilatorsof this years exhibition and came to a deeper understanding and insight which was helpful for me to gain a wider context and a sense from the individuals frame of reference. For example on reflection from the Art by Offenders Exhibition curated by Sarah Lucus 2012, which in my view was phenomenal , I was particulary struck by the sheer volume of talent that had been submitted which I personally and perhaps even selfishly took great pleasure from visiting on two occasions. I was totally "hooked" and inspired by what and how the art had been exhibited by Sarah Lucus and felt a depth from the entrants. I learned and was left pondering about some of the entrants and inner worlds which I found interesting, especially from the inmates, the younger entrants and those who were in psychiatric settings which led me to wonder more about their personal naratives.
Again, these were only my personal preferences of interest at the time and I remember being in awe of the raw “untrained” talent which was heightened by how creatively the exhibition had been put together. On reading the curators perspectives 2015, I gained a new understanding in what and how the curators commented about the entrants work from their artistic perspective.
During the 2012 exhibition, I found it fascinating that the majority of entrants chose for their work to remain anonymous where I was all about “celebrating the talent” and hard work that had gone into the exhibition. Interestingly, at the time of visiting the exhibition, I saw this almost at the entrants work being subjected to another, almost silent punitive measure that had been imposed on them by another “system” rather that the quality and expertise of their work not being fully acknowledged as a result of the these entrants being “offenders". However on reflection, I also appreciate the offenders' rights and respect of confidentiality and anonymity as to why such was not
The entrants work had been anonymised by numbers, however for some reason my enthusiasm seemed to want to promote the entrants in more of a "human", personal perspective identifying entrants names and to include of a synopsis and narrative about the entrants backgrounds. Again, here I identify that my social, therapeutic interest and professional background as well equally important, the artistic perspective of the work, arises and an an overwhelmingly conscious perspective to acknowledge and celebrate a holistic approach arises within me.
Art by Offenders is after all, an art exhibition which for me, I find exciting, dynamic and cutting edge. The culmination of the undiluted art perspective along with what I always take away with me, the social and deeply human approach to being, therapy and rehabilitation. Hence my enthusiasm about the annual exhibition.
Article written by
Ros Barthelmy 2015.
Art by Offenders Exhibition 2012
Artcle written by
Person Centred Art Therapy Association
Winter 2012/2013 Edition
Private Counseling Practice
Copy Right 2016.
Private Counseling Practice
Copy Right 2016.