Since the dawn of time, we have witnessed evidence that the drive to create triumphs over environment, resources, and even access to organized language. Throughout history, art-making has proven itself as an important constant — right alongside all other basic necessities and human needs.
On exhibit are the works of artists either currently or formerly incarcerated. Visitors are asked to consider a human being’s intrinsic need for creative expression. One might assume that imagination and creativity cannot thrive within a system that was designed to strip individuals of their humanity, but the work of these artists reveals that even the most oppressive conditions cannot extinguish ingenuity and self-expression.
Even in a prison, where demoralization is a given and materials often come few and far between, both budding and established artists are creating bodies of work depicting their thoughts, dreams, feelings, and ideas — art that serves as a mode of communication, a vehicle for connection, and a source of freedom.
The works you see were created by artists associated with the Justice Arts Coalition (JAC). JAC is a Maryland-based non-profit that serves as a unifying body for those engaged in artmaking in and around carceral institutions across the US. Through the sharing of stories and resources, and by using the arts as a bridge between people inside and outside of prison, JAC unites teaching artists, arts advocates, and currently and previously incarcerated artists and allies, harnessing the transformative power of the arts to reimagine justice. JAC believes that art can serve as connective tissue, weaving its way back and forth through prison walls to foster and strengthen relationships between people inside and out, and is committed to increasing opportunities for creative expression in carceral settings while amplifying the voices of those most impacted by mass incarceration.
Art can remind us of our shared humanity, of our common struggles and sacrifices, and that every one of us has unique gifts and a unique story to share. To create a work of art – a song, a dance, or a poem – within the barren confines of prison is truly a courageous and liberating act – a reclaiming of identity, of possibility, of worth, a demand to be visible.
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