Friends First - My Path: Art by People in the Criminal Justice System
My Path is an upcoming Koestler Arts exhibition for Yorkshire, curated by young people in partnership with Sheffield Youth Justice Service. It’s currently being installed at the Millennium Gallery and, as a Friend, we wanted you to be among the first to find out more about the project and what will be on display.
Here’s our Project Curator, Ashley Gallant, to tell you more:
Koestler Arts is an arts charity that encourages creativity within the criminal justice system - people in prisons, secure hospitals, young offender institutions, immigration removal centres and on probation. Since 1962, Koestler Arts has run an annual awards programme - facilitating feedback, encouragement and support to some of the most marginalised in our society, and sharing their work with the public through exhibitions and events.
The artworks on display in My Path have been selected from over 300 entries from across Yorkshire to the 2020 Koestler Awards – together they form the first ever Koestler exhibition in the region. Many of the works of art were created at the height of the pandemic in establishments where artists were spending up to 23 hours a day in their cells or rooms. Under these circumstances, and with limited access to materials, the artists have created works in various mediums including drawing, painting, poetry, sculpture and music.
Koestler Arts invited young people working with Sheffield Youth Justice Service (SYJS) to curate the exhibition. The young people and staff from SYJS worked with Sheffield-based artist Sarah Jane Palmer, who led a series of socially-distanced workshops at the Millennium Gallery. Together the group explored the meaning of ‘curation’ and heard from graphic designers and staff from Museums Sheffield about what goes on behind-the-scenes to make an exhibition a reality.
The young people looked through hundreds of artworks, bringing their own insight and imagination to their final selection which was influenced by ideas of ‘time’, ‘freedom’, ‘journeys’ and ‘the future of the planet’. The exhibition’s title, My Path, is very open in meaning – we all walk our own unique path and it can be hard to understand another’s journey… yet the path ahead of us can always change…
The works of art are displayed with captions telling some of the stories behind their creation, alongside insight from the young curators. As you view the works in the exhibition you’ll also hear excerpts of poetry and music. The poems have been recorded by Synergy Theatre Project, a company of actors with lived experience of the criminal justice system. The young curators have deliberately avoided trying to create a linear path around the exhibition – as such, the layout, coupled with the sound recordings, really encourages you to wander, explore and find your own path between the works of art.
Within the exhibition you are invited to write a feedback card, which will be sent anonymously to the artists. Under the conditions of 23 hour lockdowns, each work in this exhibition represents a minor miracle of endurance, passion and creativity, so your words mean a great deal to the artists involved and we’re really looking forward to sharing your thoughts with them.
Transporting works, and curating and installing the exhibition has all taken place amidst the restrictions of Covid-19. Koestler Arts exhibitions always demonstrate the power of art to bring hope and change in challenging situations, and in the context of the last year this has never been more apparent, or more vital.
My Path: Art by People in the Criminal Justice System, will be on display at the Millennium Gallery once it reopens until 31 May 2021.
Images (top to bottom):
- Lost at Sea, HM Prison Hull, Painting
- Murmuration, HM Prison Wealstun, First-Time Entrant Award for Watercolour & Gouache
- My Path, HM Prison Wealstun, First-Time Entrant Award for Drawing