In an attempt at breaking stereotypes and demystifying the lives prisoners lead, the University”s Prison Creative Arts Project is holding its 6th annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners beginning this week.
“Because the prison population is mostly poor people of color, most of us are cut off from them. This is an effort to both help the prisoners and help the public understand the prisoners,” said Art Prof. and exhibit co-curator Janie Paul “Many people are ignorant and believe prisoners are like what they see on TV.”
“There is nothing better for communicating humanity and connecting with people than art,” Paul said. “Many prisoners live year to year for this show. Art can be salvation, a way of digging down into yourself.”
Paul and English Prof. Buzz Alexander work with students, former students and community members in the project to bring the arts, including drama, dance, art and creative writing to prisoners in Michigan.
The show includes more than 200 pieces of art from approximately 35 prisons. Because the artists themselves are unable to attend the event, a videotape and guest book of visitors” comments are circulated from prison to prison for them to see.
LSA freshman Jackie Bray heard about the event from her English professor.
“The show is wonderful because it not only gives prisoners the opportunity to show their creativity to the public, but it also allows the public to see the absolutely wonderful work that can come out of prisons,” she said.
“I have about 230 pieces of art that were all done in that little six by nine foot cell,” former prisoner and exhibitor Eric McWethy said. “Every Monday I looked forward to going in and being able to express myself in a newfound way.
“However, it is an honor to be here today, able to express myself verbally instead of visually,” he added.
Tony James, another former prisoner and artist, said the show is beneficial for the community.
“I really appreciate the work that goes on here. The curators are up against great odds and prejudices from Lansing and prison administrators,” James said. “This show helps eradicate preconceived ideas the public has about prisoners. Being in it served to confirm my sense as an artist.”
The event runs at the Rackham Galleries now until Feb. 21.