Exhibiting prison art: Temporary release and conditional re-entry

Jeremy Ryder1

1Flinders University

Public exhibitions of art produced in prison run counter to the idea that the prison institution punishes people by excluding them from participating in cultural, economic, and political life in the community. This presentation draws on observations and research on seven annual public exhibitions of art from the South Australian adult prison system to look at why and how the general exclusionary rules of incarceration can be relaxed for the medium of art and the temporary art exhibition.

Exhibitions of ‘prison art’ can be carefully controlled, you might say curated, by the state and cultural institutions to broadcast strategic messages about crime and the impacts of punishment. Images that connect crime, with punishment and punishment with pain, for example is one that is acceptable, even useful, to the state. The medium of art, however, is important because sentenced prisoners are able to produce objects which have important symbolic value as evidence of prisoners’ ‘rightdoing’ which is linked to individual reform. Public exhibitions of art made in prison serve a dual purpose. On one hand these events contribute to state messaging about crime, punishment, pain and reform. On the other, they can also be cultural events through which prisoners can challenge negative stereotypes and assumptions and generate public interest, empathy and even sympathy for prisoners which runs counter to popular retributive (state) narratives about those who commit crime.


Dec 08 2021