Art By Offenders Explores The Dark And Light Side Of Prison Life

UNLESS you’re a master forger the idea of art and crime mixing together might not spring instantly to mind. However a quick duck in to the Southbank Centre this autumn may have you scurrying to re-evaluate that idea and your perceptions of prison life.Introducing Art by Offenders; both fascinating in theme and remarkable in style, it’s the fourth annual showcase between the Koestler Trust and the Southbank Centre of art by the incarcerated.From all corners of the country from secure units to reforms centres, a rich tapestry of creative endeavours have been plucked from the artists’ hands, dissected and discussed, ready to be unveiled to the masses.

The exhibition offers a fascinating delve into the dark nature of prison life and its altogether polar opposite of heart warming hope, redemption and humour.It doesn’t suffer from self indulgence nor is it sombre in nature. Instead it reveals art forms and feelings filled with intelligence and colour – and many standout pieces, including the almost primal painting Hastings Finest, the surreal sculpture Hakahookoo and the touching prose of The Ballad of Any Goal.

This year the curators are volunteer members of the Magistrates Association who have whittled down more than 7,000 pieces to just 150. Davendra Singh JP, one of the curators, said: ‘Some of the artwork is funny; it can show a humorous view to some very serious issues such as prison overcrowding, other pieces represent deep emotions, but none appeared to incite violence or glorify crime, in fact it was quite the opposite.’

And one blogger from the education charity Open College of the Arts, aptly summed up the essence of the exhibit with her words: ‘It’s a great way for prisoners to feel like they’re still alive and connected with the outside world hopefully painting works therapeutically to show they can be part of something wonderful.’ You may not agree with their crimes, or the punishment they receive, but walking through the exhibit you get an unavoidable feeling of a life and gift very much wasted.

And if Koestler Trust were looking for a better example to illustrate their rehabilitative efforts, Anon’s sentiments under his painting, A Glimmer of Keef, which won the Sodexo Justice Services Bronze Award, could not be more searingly honest and from the heart: ‘Art has got me through seven years of the worst time I could ever imagine. Hear the oil ROAR! I’ll paint for the rest of my days.’  Text:  By Colin Grady

You can check out this free event at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, in London until Sunday 20 November – for more information visit

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