May 25, 2006
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
Artwork that depicts the hopes, dreams, pain and frustration of Connecticut inmates is being featured in an annual show of the Community Partners in Action Prison Arts Program.
The collection is on display at the Jean J. Schensul Community Gallery at the Institute for Community Research on Wyllys Street. It features more than 100 paintings, drawings, sculpture and pottery.
"We saw it as part of our mission to connect with the community," said Colleen Coleman, artistic director at the Institute for Community Research. "So much of the work we do, such as our project to provide housing, is for people who are being re-integrated [from prison to the community]."
Though created on simple pieces of paper, cloth or cardboard, or sculpted from materials such as floor tiles, toilet paper and soap, the artwork is anything but ordinary.
Both disturbing and compelling, the collection includes scenes of lives gone wrong and the horrors of prison life. There are portraits, vibrant abstracts and nature scenes. The themes run the gamut of emotion - from violent to fantastical, from heartbreaking to whimsical.
"Making your work is a definite release," Coleman said. "It's a great opportunity to invite people in to see what people can do."
Titled "Violence," a collage by Washington Alvarez includes fragments of an in-prison disciplinary report hovering over a drawing of a grimacing face whose skull is smashed open. Sections of a poem by Karl A. Menninger surround the images and include the line:
"It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one."
Other pieces are more lighthearted, such as Joseph Wilson's colored pencil drawings of a little boy playing in a park, Paul Fine's intricately detailed fishing scene and sculptures of animals made from soap by Joseph Cusano.
"I think a lot of it is fantasy stuff. There is a lot of attention to detail," said Gannon Long, a communications representative for the institute. "There is also a lot of duality here."
Along with the exhibit, the institute offers lectures and panel discussions that address the challenges incarcerated people face once they are released.
Tonight, from 5 to 8, a gallery performance and talk titled "Prisons Arts: the Power to Transform Lives," will feature artists/inmates and instructors who represent the visual art and music programs in Connecticut correctional institutions.
Members of the Judy Dworin Performance Ensemble will collaborate with Leslie Bird, musical director of the singing group "Women of the Cross," in a performance developed with the women of York Correctional Institution.
Also, the Voices of Joy Gospel Choir will give a performance and talk led by chaplain Laurie Etter, musical director at York. There will also be a gallery talk conducted by Jeffery Green, an arts instructor for the Community Partners in Action Arts Program and Bob Garabedian, an artist and former inmate.
The event, held in the institute's gallery space, is free and open to the public.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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