On The Inside
June 2, 2019 — September 8, 2019
On the Inside is a group show of LGBTQ+ artists who are currently incarcerated. The art is made from basic materials the prisoners have access to behind bars: mostly letter-sized paper, dull pencils, ball-point pen ink tubes (the hard shell is deemed too dangerous), and unlikely innovations such as using an asthma inhaler with Kool-aid to create an air brushed painting.
The project started with a small ad in Black and Pink newsletter, a monthly publication filled with prisoner generated content. Almost 4,000 submissions were received. Though the call for submissions did not specify guidelines for creation, a majority of the entries were portraits. This trend speaks to the need of the artists to be seen in a society that deems them invisible. Through depicting themselves—rarely in prison uniforms, nor in the context of jail – these artists boldly reclaim their identity. They draw themselves in the clothes that best represent who they are on the inside: asserting the gender with which they identify, their style, the context and setting where they would like to be, were they not in prison.
In a nation that incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, LGBTQ+ prisoners face a greater risk of physical and sexual victimization. They are more likely to experience assault and abuse by corrections officers as well as other prisoners, and less likely to have support from family and friends on the outside due to their sexuality or gender identity. For an incarcerated LGBTQ+ person, corresponding with someone on a regular basis is itself a harm reduction strategy, giving that person a support network outside of prison. To this end, On The Inside has created a channel of communication allowing audience members to share their experience, thoughts, and feedback with each individual artist, via a texting and transcribing service created specifically for the exhibition.
On the Inside makes the individual and collective statement that identity and sense of self is valuable and worth claiming. This is amplified in the context of prison, where access to identity affirming clothes, makeup, and hair is denied. Many of the portraits are drawn on the back of forms, print outs, and scrap paper generated by the facility. The act of taking a document covered in rules and regulations and turning it into an expression of self is a powerful act. It is a refusal to passively accept institutionalization; to defy it with inventive and skillful self-expression.
Exhibition Director: Tatiana von Furstenberg
Exhibition Designers: Eline Mul and Tatiana von Furstenberg
Graphic Designer: Eline Mul
Project Manager: Natalia Provatas
Prisoner Liaison: Reed Miller
In collaboration with: Black and Pink
Texting platform: Frontline SMS
Production Assistant: Lauren Kruz
Archivist: Matt Hollis
Framing: VR Fine Art Service
Exhibition Photography: Blake Jacobsen
Lead Image: Larry S., Always Without a Net. Courtesy of the artist.
A major component of the exhibition is the ability to directly communicate with the artists via a texting and transcribing service created specifically for the exhibition, in addition to sending letters via the postal service. Accompanying each drawing is an artist code, which allows audience members to share their experience, thoughts, and feedback with each individual artist.
By providing a means for visitors to directly engage with the incarcerated exhibition artists, On the Inside encourages an active and participatory way for audiences to directly engage with the exhibition artists, despite their incarceration, and aims to draw attention to the larger, ongoing relationship between mainstream society and the prison industrial complex.