The ARR-project invites prisoners to tell their story behind a physical scar. The objective is to callenge stigma connected to imprisonment. By exhibiting narratives from the prisoners themselves, they are in charge of their own biography. Prisoners represent a diverse group with different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. The stories of scars potentially represent the prison population in participant countries – Norway, Ireland and Malawi.

Stories and photos of scars are processed into finished works by professional artists, in most cases, in collaboration with the prisoner until completion of the exhibited work. The prisoner may exhibit his/her contribution as a final work unedited by others. The ARR-project’s aspiration is to promote understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of creative arts amongst prisoners, that those visiting the exhibition will gain a greater understanding of the prison artists as ‘whole persons’ and not just prisoners. In this way, it may lessen the stereotyping and stigma of imprisonment. Visitors to the exhibition can come to understand that if we continue to judge people by ‘the worst thing they ever did’, then there is no possibility for personal growth, development, and change.

Art exhibitions, and in particular exhibition openings, are traditionally the preserve of society’s ‘privileged elite’. Often, art exhibitions ‘about’ prisons and prisoners see them as objectes rather than audience members or artists to be developed. In other words, prisoners are talked about rather than talked to, they are painted rather than the painter, they are written about rather than the writer, and so on. Exhibiting narratives and artstic work by prisoners, in a professional context, are powerful means of breaking this cycle. It can empower and encourage more prisoners, and introduce diversity and inclusion into the art world. Finding this new audience can fundamentally change the makeup of who is creating and viewing art. Prisoners are given a chance to connect with society outside through the medium of art.

An additional incentive is to motivate prisoners in their education, exploring the effect of educational processes in the classroom; how participation in a professionally produced art exhibition can inspire prisoners to challenge themselves in basic skills and art-production. There may be a potential here, to empower those who have not yet found their path into the classroom.

Access to arts and culture is enshrined as a right in a series of international covenants such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (Article 27) (United Nations General Assembly 1948), and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (United Nations General Assembly 2007). And yet incarcerated peoples within criminal justice settings are routinely denied cultural participation and access is often used as a form of control or coercion by those in charge. Further, authorities might silence cultural expression as a strategy for removing identity and agency. In settler-colonial prisons where Indigenous peoples are drastically overrepresented, this denial of cultural rights has profoundly negative impacts on individuals and communities, advancing the shattering effects of colonisation and diminishing the capacity for healing.

From the article: Performing Te Whare Tapa Whā: building on
cultural rights to decolonise prison theatre
practice by Rand Hazou, Sarah Woodland & Pedro Ilgenfritz

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