The University Record, February 4, 1998

Prisoners aim to dispel stereotypes through their art

This is representative of the art work included in the exhibition at the Rackham Galleries.


By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

"We feel. We are still human beings. We're sorry we've made mistakes. I still laugh. I cry. I show both anger and love. I care about others. Let me show you this through my work. It's the only way I know how," says a prisoner at the Saginaw Correctional Facility and a participant in the University's third annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners.

Other prisoners from across Michigan will be expressing themselves through paintings and drawings displayed at the free, public exhibition Feb. 10-24 at the Rackham Galleries. The exhibit is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

In part the result of the Art in Prison program of classes conducted by Janice Paul, a lecturer in the School of Art and Design, entries in the exhibition are judged before being accepted for the show, which is co-curated by Paul, English Prof. Buzz Alexander and Pilar Anadon of the Office of Marketing Communications.

"This program provides an opportunity to gain self-esteem in a person who has none," say Luella R. Burke and Barbara N. Bock, warden and acting deputy warden, respectively, at the Saginaw facility. "It provides an opportunity to learn new skills for a person who has limited opportunities. It provides a means of appropriate self-expression to a person who has chosen inappropriate means of expressing himself in the past."

The exhibition will feature a continuing video of interviews with 10 artists and plays created and performed by Michigan prison theater workshops facilitated by Buzz Alexander and U-M students and graduates.

The exhibition demonstrates only one of a number of programs in the fine, visual and performance arts conducted by U-M faculty, staff and students at Michigan's prisons and will include a series of free, public performances and discussions in the gallery space. Scheduled activities (all beginning at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise indicated) include:

Feb. 10: Opening reception.

Feb. 11: Performance of choreographed poetry by youth from Boysville.

Feb. 12: Presentation by Karina Epperlein of video on her work in movement and performances with women prisoners in California.

Feb. 13: Presentation and discussion by executive director and local member of Families of Murder Victims for Reconciliation.

Feb. 14: Dance performance by Leslie Neal of the University of Florida.

Feb. 16: Presentation of award-winning video about the Green Haven Correctional Facility Think Tank, the Community Justice Center in Harlem, the Family Partnership Center in Poughkeepsie and the closing of the Marist College Program at the Green Haven facility and the closing of education for prisoners in general.

Feb. 17: A panel discussion of prison art with two artists now out of prison and three artists still incarcerated (via conference call).

Feb. 18: A reading by ex-prisoners of their own and other prisoners' writing.

Feb. 19 (4 p.m.): Workshop/discussion on prison theater practice.

Feb. 19: A dialogue on sexual abuse, punishment, and healing.

Feb. 20: A lecture by Lataeef Islam who works with families, youth, and prisoners throughout the state of New York.

Feb. 21 ( 2 p.m.) A presentation by Ohio high school students on the deleterious effects and the injustices of mandatory minimums.

Feb. 23: A discussion on programs and prisoner/community relations with wardens and staff from the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Feb. 24: A panel discussion on restorative justice.

Feb. 25: Closing reception.