⬤ 13 May - 16 Jun 2020
Art is commonly described as possessing and enacting a kind of liberatory force. And when it comes under attack, art is often defended with reference to the principle of freedom of expression. This ontological quality of art is tested, if not exemplified, under conditions of incarceration—as a range of high-profile exhibitions in the northern hemisphere have recently shown. One such exhibition, the historical survey The Pencil is a Key: Drawings by Incarcerated Artists at New York’s The Drawing Center (2019), explicitly made this point: that for humans in captivity, drawing is a “vehicle through which they proclaim their individuality, express their hope, and imagine their freedom”. The soon-to-open Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at MoMA’s PS1 (2020, delayed due to the pandemic) also recognises prison art’s symbolic liberatory force, but not—importantly—at the expense of its abolitionist agenda.
Confined 11 is an exhibition of 300 artworks made by 286 Indigenous artists who are currently inmates of, or recently released from, Victorian prisons. The exhibition is the annual signature event of The Torch—an art gallery and organisation in St Kilda established in 2011, which runs its Indigenous Arts in Prison and Community Program across all Victorian prisons. All the artworks in Confined 11 are for sale, with 100 per cent of the sale price going to the artists—immediately distinguishing art-making from other forms of prison labour in Victoria, which are typically awarded at rates significantly below minimum wage.