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Prisoners with Vision
by Himali Singh Soin

Art From Behind Bars (an exhibition of artworks created by incarcerated criminals)

Organized by Kavita Shivdisani

In association with bCA Gallery, Mumbai





The sky above is a navy moleskin. Down below, a drum beats. A clang opens an iron door, a tin bowl of sour lentils is placed near a silhouetted figure. Time swells, scraping like a file on metal. Distant shrieks and heavy boots punctuate the thick cold steel bars that cut and tear the drooping figure into long, bent chunks of flesh, so bored, so oblivious, sans thought, reeking with silent moans---Or such is the cinematized depiction of the grim steel cage in which the waywards of said norms of morality are isolated to a cage to suffer and repent.

With such a context in mind, to view the actual artwork of convicts--to connect with their humanity more than the bars that constrict them—is the purpose of the exhibition Art Behind Bars. When this imagined reality is projected onto simple figures of mother and child, of a far away family, and more literally onto the day to day life in prison, the works of Baby Parkar, Lalitha Ramanrao Gonugunta, Naresh Jhadhav, Rahul More and Tatiana Bolomey are thought provoking, emotional, brimming with hope, and yearning for rejuvenation, rebirth, and reaction.


This project was first conceptualized by Kavita Shivdisani and her 8-17 year old students from an after-school experiential learning group called “Know Your Environment.  She does not however, subscribe to the stereotypical idea of Art as “therapy”; instead, she insists that the prison experience should inform but not dictate the individual artists’ aesthetic. With the few materials she donates to them, the convicts must create serious works worthy of a formal show, and with sales returned to their bank accounts for when they are acquitted. The artwork displays very distinct styles.  Tatiana creates childlike, bold, colorful depictions of prison life, of faraway wanderings, reminiscent, lonely, yearning. Lalitha fragments bodies, emotions and landscapes into surreal renderings of a simultaneous trapping and  healing process. Baby Parkar utilizes ancient Indian art and sculpture traditions from his Kerala homeland to provoke memories of family, motherhood, and sexuality. The couple depicted in this picture are tota-wallas, or parrot talkers—as if to ask, what will my future hold?

 How long will this last? The charcoal technique lends a distant, dreamy vision of a time forgotten, or being desperately held onto.   Naresh’s acrylics convey these same simple memories of village life, or a world outside, but steeped in darkness. Rahul’s detailed and beautiful sketches in charcoal also depict a female in a goddess

pose, but he cleverly centers her between the traditional architectural temple column, which double up as prison bars—containing both his subject as well as his own persona.

-- Himali Singh Soin

(All images courtesy of the artists and gallery)

Posted by Himali Singh Soin on 7/24/10

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