On Thursday 21st September to Wednesday 15th November The Koestler Trust exhibited works of art from offenders, detainees, secure patients and ex-convicts at the Southbank Centre.
The pieces ranged from art to music and writing and presented a very potent insight into the minds of prisoners.
The artworks often portrayed the darker corners of the mind of someone confined and were extremely personal, sometimes uncomfortably so. Am I laughing or am I Screaming Inside? is an intricate and up-close portrait made from coffee and conveys a very loud, raw and desperate psyche.
Confinement is a prominent theme throughout; One piece, a detailed replica of a prison cell no bigger than a shoebox, gives off a particularly claustrophobic and suffocating feeling.
It is easy to see how the process of creating some of these works could be therapeutic; a rare outlet for those with few channels beyond the four walls of their unit.
There was a strong sense of disbelief that the exhibitors are not practising artists, since the works as good as any other art exhibition inside the walls of the Southbank Centre.
But mostly the exhibition gave a feeling of unity with a group of people who are so often marginalised and detached from the rest of society.
The exhibition was held by the Koestler Trust, a charity which aims to “help offenders lead more positive lives by motivating them to participate and achieve in the arts”. It has since grown from the 200 entries at its beginning in 1962 to over 7000 pieces in 2017.
Behar Loshi, who works for the Trust, said: “It’s a natural human instinct to express yourself. I’ve been inside as well and if you have something to do, writing or painting, it does download feelings instead of keeping them to yourself.
“Keeping to yourself in a small confined space isn’t helpful.”
The works are curated by British sculptor Antony Gormley, creator of ‘the Angel of the North’. Gormley’s involvement marks the 10th anniversary of the Annual Exhibition, which aims to open up a dialogue in the UK about our prison system.
Loshi said: “It’s about education and awareness. People who visit see a bit more than what you read in the newspapers, this is first-hand information.”
Gormley said: “In the words of one prisoner, ‘in our minds we can always be free’. I want this work to say something to all of us outside about what it feels like to be a detainee, inside.”
Some of the artwork is for sale, with 25% of the proceeds going to Victim Support, 25% to Koestler Trust and 50% to the artist.
Ian Dixon, member of the Perrie Lecture Committee that focuses on the mental health of prisoners, says that the use of art in prisons “Dissipates violence, brings back self-respect and gives offenders contact with the outside world rather than rotting away on the inside”.
The Koestler Trust also has a mentoring programme that encourages ex-offenders into a career in an aspect of art where they show promise. A study has shown that mentored offenders are less likely to reoffend and unemployment fell from 50% to 33% in the sample group.
The free exhibition Inside opened at the Southbank Centre on the 21th September to the 15th November 10am – 11pm.