Art

If These Walls Could Talk: ‘On The Inside’ Displays Artworks By Incarcerated Members Of The LGBTQ Community

Installation view of On The Inside at Abrons Art Center (Photo: Christopher Watkins)

Installation view of On The Inside at Abrons Art Center (Photo: Christopher Watkins)

On view at the Abrons Arts Center through December 28th, On The Inside is a group exhibition produced by Tatiana Von Furstenberg, who spearheaded the project from the beginning as a curator and producer. Featuring more than four hundred artworks created by currently incarcerated LGBTQ artists, the exhibition blankets the Center’s gallery space, dominated by large windows facing the world outside. Prompted by a listing Furstenberg placed in Black and Pink—a monthly newsletter and organization fighting for abolition of prison industrial complex that has caused major physical and emotional damage to LGBTQ prisoners, the ambitious project examines freedom, creativity and art as a meditative tool under challenging circumstances.

Installation view of On The Inside at Abrons Art Center (Photo: Christopher Watkins)

Installation view of On The Inside at Abrons Art Center (Photo: Christopher Watkins)

The limited materials these individuals are offered behind bars largely restrict the exhibition, which received around four thousand submissions from prisons across the United States, to greyscale colors. But, their subject matters noticeably vary. Unsurprisingly, portraiture is the prevalent genre. Self-portraits that reinvent the artists into their idealized selves are some of the most profound pieces. Through illustration of various beings, they pay homage to an alternate realm of possibilities.

Art grants liberation from bodily restraint through self-expression. Arranged based on various themes such as Jesus Christ, nudes, love or celebrities (there is a wall solely devoted to Rihanna, whose effortlessly tough image clearly is an inspiration for many of these artists), On The Inside delivers more than a typical group exhibition (which aren’t sorely lacking around Lower East Side).

Detail of Rihanna wall in On The Inside (Photo: Christopher Watkins)

Detail of Rihanna wall in On The Inside (Photo: Christopher Watkins)

This project is a catalyst for discussions and awareness about one of the most grueling issues in the country. It is about making visible those who are forgotten and neglected for being behind walls–those who are rendered physically and emotionally invisible.

Subject to public scrutiny and guilt not only behind bars but also later in life, these members of society struggle to be heard and understood. Traced through each line of every drawing, the solemn hopes and desires of anonymous individuals resonate with viewers out the outside. Even in the most cheerful piece of art lies a hint of longing and anxiety for the future. “There are places I’ve seen in my lifetime and never forgot,” reads one of the many artist quotes scattered around the artworks, while another one states, “Although I can see myself, to those looking in I am one of the faceless expendable persons.”

Installation view of On The Inside at Abrons Art Center (Photo: Christopher Watkins)

Installation view of On The Inside at Abrons Art Center (Photo: Christopher Watkins)

What if’s, why’s, and how’s crowding our mundane routines haunt these individuals like no other. LGBTQ prisoners endure abuse while struggling for survival in the prison setting where internal dynamics are based on physical strength and resilience, yet art can be healing and liberating. In this exhibition one may find the most earnest and sincere depictions of efforts to exist. Built in the exact dimensions of a solitary confinement cell, a cube in the center of the gallery invites viewers inside not only to view the more explicit artworks in the exhibition, but also to experience, at least for a couple of minutes, the claustrophobic terror of being confined in such a tight cell, a commonly practiced method of punishment in prisons.

On The Inside: A Group Show of LGBTQ Artists Who Are Currently Incarcerated has been extended through December 28, 2016.

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