March 18, 2019
Topic: Arts & Culture
The University of Michigan Prison Creative Arts Project presents the 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, one of the largest prison exhibitions in the world, beginning Wednesday.
The exhibition highlights the work of 574 artists from 26 facilities in Michigan. It features 670 paintings, sculptures and three-dimensional works.
The exhibition, with free admission, is an opportunity for people to experience the aesthetic skill and rich humanity of incarcerated people.
“It is a curated show. We don’t take all of the work that we see,” said Graham Hamilton, PCAP arts programming coordinator. “We show good work and we highlight the talent and the emotion of people inside.”
The show features a diversity of both artists and artistic choices. Artists range in age from 18 to 80, men and women from across the state with diverse racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.
There is a broad array of artistic media and subject matter, including landscapes, portraits, prison scenes and political statements. Of the 2,215 works submitted, 670 were selected for the exhibit. Just more than half will be hung on the walls, with the remainder in print racks.
“We accepted art with all themes and ideas, but our focus is explore the experience that is lived inside, to share those voices for the outside to witness,” said Hamilton.
Artists rise to incredible heights of attention and skill.
Samantha Bachynski created “Crocheted Motorcycle” by crocheting each part of the bike and then assembling them all together. Not knowing anything about motorcycles when she started, she studied books and magazines to understand the bike’s structure.
In his painting, “Evening Yard Crew,” Oliger Merko elevates the simple gestures of shoveling snow on the yard into a radiant moment of glowing light and color.
In “The Painter: A Portrait of Prison,” Christopher Levitt gives us a glimpse of life inside. Two artists sit at a table in the day room, making art while other people walk the corridor talking, listening on headphones and gesturing to each other.
Most pieces are offered for sale, with proceeds going directly to the artists. Last year, half of the 630 pieces were sold, generating $26,000 in two weeks.
This video outlines the Prison Creative Arts Project presents the 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, one of the largest prison exhibitions in the world.
Senior Curator Janie Paul started the annual exhibition in 1996 with her husband and PCAP founder, Buzz Alexander. A community-based artist and emeritus professor at U-M whose primary focus is the capacity of visual meaning-creation as a vehicle for social change, Paul has been bringing art from prisons across the state to campus each year.
For the first show, Paul and Alexander traveled to 16 prisons in Michigan to collect art.
“We were just mind blown by the work,” Paul said. “We discovered it was such an important event both for the artists inside and for the community because it brought us all together.”
The exhibit is supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.