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Inside: Art by offenders, secure patients and detainees, review

Image of Don't Bring Harry artwork

Artworks demonstrating “what it feels like to be a detainee inside.”

Inside is hands down the most fascinating exhibitions you will ever visit. This year’s exhibition is curated by Antony Gormley who said he wanted us to know “what it feels like to be a detainee inside.” With the aim of getting people to talk about the UK’s criminal justice system, the artworks on show were selected from over 7,000 pieces of fine art, design, writing and music that were entered into this year’s Koestler Awards

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a man named Sat, who’s surname he preferred to keep anonymous. An ex offender himself, Sat believed the art created for the exhibition is important because “the inside of a prison is very grey and and art brings colour to that.” The concept of bringing ex offenders in to host the exhibition and shed light on some of the complex issues facing the  criminal justice system is an extremely rare, yet uplifting phenomenon. 

Some of the artworks feature uneasy and morbid themes, from suicidal thoughts to the inner-workings of a psychopath. One of the most interesting pieces by far is Don’t Bring Harry, a thirteen-piece comic telling the story of one man’s struggle with a heroin addiction. Harry, the elephant which is featured in each piece, is the metaphorical idiom for his addiction — quite literally, the elephant in the room. 

In the visitors handbook, one person wrote “where is the hope? — Its a valid question given the shocking and macabre subject matter in a lot of the artworks, however, when considering the positive change the art brings about in themselves, their environment, their relationships and skills, you may question otherwise. When Jackson Pollock was being treated for his alcohol addiction, he used art as an escape. In that sense, the hope may be in the art after all. 

Image: Don’t Bring Harry (Re-vamp 2017), HM Prison Wayland, Highly Commended Award for Graphic Novel, ink and pastel on paper. Image by Aimee Gabay.


Exhibition is open 21 Sept – 15 Nov 2017

Opening times: Daily, 10am – 11pm

Find it on level 1, Royal Festival Hall

Entrance is free

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