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Review: Art by Offenders at the Royal Festival Hall

BY Boon Koh
Published 7 November 2010

Art and crime aren’t normally associated with one another, unless its in the context of a heist of a priceless artwork, Italian Job style. But art has always been used in prisons, mental institutions, and detainment centres to provide not just a hobby for the prisoners, but also to teach a valuable life skill.

The Koestler Trust, a prison arts charity in the UK, helps and encourages prisons and mental institutions across the country to provide resources to patients to be able to express themselves creatively. Artists have known it for ages that creating a piece of art can sometimes act like a catharsis and provide enlightenment to oneself. It seems natural that this is needed in a prison environment, where we expect inmates to contemplate on their social sins and come out rehabilitated and enlightened to the way of the law.

Art By Offenders is an exhibition held at the Royal Festival Hall until the 14th November, featuring artwork by prisoners, and curated by victims of crime. The 7 curators, all from London, are either victims of serious crimes or have had close relatives who were. They were referred to the project by charities that work with victims and restorative justice. The exhibits were selected from thousands submitted from around the country, and span across 56 different art forms, from music to writing to traditional oil paintings, as well as some unique methods that were only made possible in a prison environment.

Endless by Steve Haines (top right) was one such unique method, which was done using nothing by biro pens. The refill part of the pens were taken out, water was added to thin the ink, and tissue paper was used to blend the colours. Approximately 25 pens were used to create Endless. More interestingly, the blank canvas it was painted on was created out of a bed sheet stretched over a wooden frame, and painted with emulsion paint.

Other artwork created with unique materials include Flight Through The Forest by Peter Kindred, who is serving time at HM Prison Kilmarnock in Scotland. His artwork (below), is a tree created from a bunch of discarded Magic Tree car air fresheners.

My very basic art writing skills won’t do this exhibition any justice, so I fully recommend that if you have the time and are in the area, to pop in to the Royal Festival Hall’s basement, where the exhibition is taking place. It was really enlightening to see such great art, which shows that a wealth of British talent lies behind bars, and that many of them are there because of just one bad decision or turn of events. The emotions and subject of the artworks also conveys a sense of what world behind those high walls are like. But do it quick; the Art By Offenders exhibition is only on until the 14th November.

More artwork from Art By Offenders:

Art By Offenders can also be viewed online on the Koestler’s Trust website, but is also available at the Royal Festival Hall, Mondays to Fridays, until closing (late in the evening).


  • http://www.londoneye2eye.com Vanguard

    So, Offenders have laptops, TV’s, GammeBoy, Mobile and just about anything on their bedside cabinet (yes, they have a cabinet, too)their paint brushes and all else. Now they are allowed to vote. Someone is missing a trick here: Why not turn all prisons into galleries, the prisoners into warders and the current warders their models?

    Sweet as!