“Art is everywhere, especially in prison.”
The Strength & Vulnerability Bunker Exhibition is currently taking place at the Southbank Centre in London, attracting more than 20,000 visitors over two months. Showcasing arts by prisoners, offenders on community sentences, secure mental health patients and immigration detainees, the exhibition is a real surprise for art amateurs. “I had no idea prisoners had this level of skill and talent”, they say while walking out of the exhibition.
By the name of the exhibition, I imagined myself walking into a dark cold bunker as we picture them thanks to suspense series. “Prisoners” always brings a negative picture in your mind, darkness, loneliness, craziness. You certainly don’t expect to arrive in a friendly well-lit place with stunning pieces of art hanging on the walls.
I appeared to stay very thoughtful facing this one, called “Not in the world“. For other pieces in the exhibition, it is very often unclear (as there are no explanations) what the message of the artist is, if there’s one. I felt this one certainly can have a very strong impact on people, sharing a different view on life in prison and detainees’ feelings about the “outside world”. Speaking for myself, it portrays their loneliness but most of all, their feeling of being put aside of the real world. Of the society. Of everything, in fact. The Koestler Trust, the prison arts charity organizing the exhibition, gives a voice to the people who are not often heard for either being behind bars or in any kind of institution. It is for them a chance to express themselves, their inner thoughts and feelings.
After walking amazed through the exhibition, wondering how come there are so many unknown talented people, I came to this little room filled with sofas, TVs and earphones. Lying there, small white books full of song lyrics and poems. You would imagine detainees writing about loneliness in a prison cell or the horror of their condition. We all got it wrong. I came across this poem called “Waiting to cross Croydon High Street in the rain” written by a certain Clifford, whom I came to meet later on at a conference called “Writing from prison“. The author stood up, hands shaking, slow voice, one hand behind his back, and started reading what is for the charity “his master-piece”. He offered us a very sincere smile and said “I started to see poetry as a kind of therapy“. Most of the speakers at the conference did. They found in art a way to reach the “outside world”.
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Tim Robertson, chief executive of the Koestler Trust said “We get to see the world as it looks to them in a way you don’t get from any other source”. And well, that is sometimes the most disturbing thing about it. Or the most amazing, depends on what you come across at the exhibition. Some art works picture the craziness offenders, secure patients and detainees can go through. Some others will use humor and bring a spark of joy to the viewers. I have to say this one (right) was one of my favorite.
The Strength & Vulnerability Bunker is a must-see exhibition. People will quickly understand detainees or secure mental health patients can be extremely talented and it is worth taking a few hours taking a glance at their poems, sculptures, paintings and much more.
Open until the 1st of December.