REVIEW: 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners

I had many thoughts and expectations going into the 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners while riding Commuter North up to the Duderstadt, and none of them were correct. I was going in with little idea as to what kind of art I would see in this exhibition. Drawing on my experience with art galleries, I was expecting a sparsely-filled space with the kind of art that people feel the need to step back and frown at to feel sophisticated. That was not what I saw in the Dude’s gallery space showing the many ways this project defies preconceived ideas. The walls were full of paintings and drawings while sculptures and other three-dimensional pieces sat on stands and other pieces sat in boxes waiting to be shuffled through. The room was organized according to theme with one section holding more whimsical pieces while another featured darker art. I immediately realized that my idea of art worthy of a gallery was being challenged; I had never thought about crochet finger puppets sitting in an art museum. I realized something I hadn’t considered before attending this exhibit, I have no idea how prisoners gain access to art supplies. Paints and pencils are reasonably easy to come across, but what about all the crochet work featured in the gallery? I could easily see crochet hooks being considered weapons and banned from prisons. This led me to appreciate the ingenuity of the work I was looking at. There were several boxes and even a clock which had been crafted entirely from popsicle sticks cut and glued together to look like wood. I realized that making art in prison requires much more than the traditional kind of creativity which society associates with artistry; it also requires creativity in finding and using resources to express their artistry. Another preconception I had going into this exhibit was that the art would be mainly influenced by the experiences of prison. While there were quite a few pieces that dealt with the failings of the carceral system and the societal failings that have contributed to the incarceration of such a large portion of our population, there were also many pieces that dealt with the more positive aspects of life. Some pieces were fantastical while others were landscapes. Overall, the exhibit did a fantastic job of displaying the universal nature of art and creativity.



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