Artwork life-changing for Indigenous prisoners

A selection of art from the Confined 13 exhibition.
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The exhibition Combined 13 showcases work that is changing the lives of Indigenous Australians who are or have been in jail. Amos Adams Jones reports.

An art exhibition of work by Indigenous artists who are or were in jail is highlighting the transformative impact of the program, an organiser says.

The exhibition Confined 13 is showing 400 artworks from 350 different indigenous artists now or previously in prison.

Indigenous arts officer Matty Chilly from support group The Torch says the aim is to prevent prisoners from reoffending, by “keeping that work ethic up”.

“The program is there to help them find a focus in their life, and a pathway where they can earn an income, and depending on sales, they can really get their name out there,” he said.

Artwork life-changing for Indigenous prisoners
Matty Chilly at the Confined exhibition at the Glen Eira Town Hall. Picture by Amos Adams Jones.

The Torch hosts art and educational programs allowing participants to explore their culture and identity through art, while keeping offenders on a positive path.

An independent evaluation of the program in 2019 found that artists involved with the group were 42 per cent less likely to reoffend than Indigenous people who were not. 

The exhibition’s aim is to create a strong visual metaphor for the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system, the group says.

Although Aboriginal Australians make up only 2 per cent of Australian population, they make up 27 per cent of the national prison population, according to The Australian Law Reform Commission.

Artwork life-changing for Indigenous prisoners
Chart by Amos Adams Jones.

Jesuit Social Services general manager strategic communications and engagement Andrew Yule, said young Indigenous Australians who are a part of the justice system need the correct support to “flourish”.

“These young people end up without the support they need or direction they need or connection to culture or family they need to flourish, and that system ends up sweeping them up,” he said.

Chilly does work at the Ravenhall prison in Melbourne’s west, engaging prisoners with the program while organising artworks to be sold. One hundred per cent of the profits from sales goes directly to the artist.

Chilly said he had seen many people who had taken part in the program transition into a mentoring role to support other artists involved with the program. 

Artwork life-changing for Indigenous prisoners
The Torch’s website includes chats with some of the artists represented.

When they are released from prison, they receive the profit from their works and are encouraged to keep engaged with the program. The Torch is planning to expand the art forms they practice in, including jewellery making and glass art.

The Confined 13 show is open until June 5, displayed virtually on their website or in person at the Glen Eira city council in Caufield.