One of the largest ever exhibitions of art by UK prisoners opens at London’s Southbank Centre on Thursday 20th September in a 50th anniversary celebration for the Koestler Trust, the UK’s leading prison arts charity.
Presented in a partnership between the Koestler Trust and Southbank Centre, the exhibition, ‘Free’, has been curated by the artist Sarah Lucas from a record 8,000 pieces submitted by prisoners, secure patients and detainees across the country to the Trust’s annual awards.
The exhibition marks a double celebration, with Lucas’ own 50th birthday this autumn coinciding with the Trust’s anniversary showcase of prisoners’ art.
‘Free’ is open daily from 10am-11pm daily from 20th September to 25th November in Spirit Level at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. Admission is free. Visitwww.southbankcentre.co.uk for details of the talks programme connected to the exhibition.
Sarah Lucas said: “It’s a tricky job to whittle down to under 200 from thousands of entries, all of which, it seems to me, are valid. There was lots of great stuff, so I was lucky but I had some qualms about the impossibility of being fair. “Most of the works are not abstract but my approach to selecting was. Colour, texture and so on. I focused on how things might work in groups. Of course, there are stronger works and quieter works. I needed to choose works that can help each other – even upset each other – and just in order to find my away around so many I looked for compatibilities and jolts.”
Lucas, known for her bawdy humour and visual puns, is transforming the Spirit Level exhibition space using breeze blocks and toilets, trademarks appropriately reminiscent of prison cells.
She was invited to curate ‘Free’ as part of the Trust’s anniversary celebrations and its commitment to raising the profile of the quality of art by offenders. The Trust says that art helps transform the lives of offenders and argues that the best of the work can compete with art created by contemporary professional artists.
Koestler chief executive Tim Robertson said: “Sarah’s done a great job and created a dynamic but coherent exhibition from thousands of very distinctive and individual pieces of art. “Her stamp is clearly visible throughout but she has more than done justice to the quality of work submitted and, with this year’s submissions among the best we’ve ever had, we couldn’t ask for more than that.”
The Trust has developed the anniversary theme by recruiting five ex-offenders aged over 50 to assist in installing the exhibition and with events such as tours and is expecting more than 17,000 visitors to the exhibition which will include visual artworks, music, writing and film.
Mr Robertson said: “It’s hard enough for ex-prisoners of any age to get into the arts but it’s particularly hard for older ex prisoners – yet many of our most successful entrants are older prisoners and we wanted to turn the idea of internships on its head by offering arts internship to a different generation.”
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, said: “A passionate belief in the power of the arts to change lives is something we share with the Koestler Trust. This is the fifth consecutive year that Southbank Centre has hosted the Koestler Trust Awards and we are very proud to celebrate their 50th anniversary with this landmark exhibition.”
FREE: ART BY OFFENDERS, SECURE PATIENTS AND DETAINEES OPENS AT SOUTHBANK CENTRE ON THURSDAY 20 SEPTEMBER