The Koestler Trust, the UK’s best-known prison arts charity, has curated an exhibition which has been touring central London churches. Koestler Trust,The exhibition tour of ‘First Impressions – Portraits from Prison’ began at St James’s Piccadilly, travelled to Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, and will be at St-Martin-in-the-Fields until 10 June 2018.
‘First Impressions’ features a range of portraits using diverse approaches to portraiture
The Prison Mission of Churches Together in Westminster (CTiW), a grouping of some 80 churches of all denominations in central London, has partnered with the Koestler Trust to bring the talent and skill of ex-offenders to the attention of the public. Sally Taylor, Chief Executive, Koestler Trust has said: “The Koestler Trust is delighted to be partnering with Churches Together in Westminster to bring art from the Koestler Awards right into the heart of the Churches’ communities. It is part of the mission of the Koestler Trust to change the way that the public view offenders and we hope that visitors will be inspired and moved by their art.”
‘First Impressions’ features a range of portraits using diverse approaches to portraiture and showing viewers the potential of those in the criminal justice system. Most of the portraits have been created in prisons, with some created in other settings, such as secure forensic hospitals and by people on probation. All of the portraits come from over 7,500 pieces of fine art, design, writing and music, entered into the Koestler Awards annually. They represent the national spread of the Trust, with work from London and across the UK. ‘First Impressions’ at St Martin-in-the-Fields will bring together a wider variety of works not previously showcased in this touring exhibition.
At St James Piccadilly, the exhibition was opened by Jonathan Aitken, prison reformist, who discussed the benefit of art in the rehabilitation of prisoners based on his own experiences. Aitken said: “I know, from my own experience, while serving a prison sentence, that art of many kinds, can make a significant difference in the recovery and rehabilitation of offenders.”
John Plummer, CTiW Prisons Mission, says: “We are delighted to be hosting this exhibition of artworks by prisoners, shining a light for our parishioners and visitors to these churches on the restorative power of art and the difficulties that have to be overcome to achieve it. Prisons must become places of hope and recovery and we must do more to support the multi-faith Chaplaincy Teams and lead towards the transformation of our prisons. Prisoners are out of sight. They must not also be out of mind.”
As part of the awareness raising aspect to this exhibition, throughout the exhibition tour CTiW Prisons Mission is organising talks involving high profile individuals within the Prison system speaking to the title “Can Prisons Work – for Offenders, for Victims, for Taxpayers?” At St Martin’s these questions will be addressed by Rory Stewart MP, Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice; Dame Anne Owers, Chair of Trustees, Koestler Trust and former Chief Inspector of Prisons; Lord Ramsbotham, Honorary President, Koestler Trust and former Chief Inspector of Prisons; and Juliet Lyon CBE, Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody.
The Koestler Trust has been encouraging participation in the arts by people in the criminal justice system, and showcasing it to the public, since 1962. It is renowned for its innovative engagement and curatorial approaches. In 2017, for example, the Trust presented ‘Inside’, an exhibition curated by Antony Gormley, at Southbank Centre, and ‘Beyond the Door,’ an exhibition curated by young offenders at Birmingham mac. – The Koestler Trust is the UK’s best-known prison arts charity, working across the whole of the British criminal justice system – in prisons, secure hospitals, immigration centres, young offender institutions and in the community.
The Trust runs the annual Koestler Awards to motivate people to participate in the arts, and to showcase the talent and potential of people in the criminal justice system to the public. Around 3,000 people enter the Awards each year. Entrants receive feedback and certificates, can be selected for public exhibitions or mentoring and may sell their visual artwork. The Trust holds a programme of exhibitions and events each year around the UK. The biggest is the annual exhibition at London’s Southbank Centre, which over 20,000 people visit.
Each of the 52 categories (such as computer generated music, spoken word, sculpture, animation, fashion, portrait, fiction and poetry) are judged by experts in the field. Recent Awards judges include leading professionals such as Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller; ceramic designer Emma Bridgewater; and documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux.
The Trust’s public programmes in 2018 include ‘One Hundred Years On,’ an art trail of works submitted to the Koestler Awards by women prisoners, ‘Chip Night’ an exhibition curated by young people at Firstsite in Colchester, and its annual showcase at Southbank Centre, which this year will be curated by prisoners’ families.