Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast,
31st March 2022
Curated by PAF artists in residence
The exhibition returned to the former Victorian prison after a two-year absence because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public gatherings and contained the multi-discipline creative works by prisoners from Maghaberry, Magilligan, Hydebank Wood College and Women’s Prison, as well as works created by ex-offenders based in community settings.
The creation of the artworks was supported by PAF’s Artist in Residence programme which represents a comprehensive spectrum of disciplines: including painting, abstract art, ceramics, mosaics, pop art, sketches, still life art, modelling, collage, wash, portraits, mixed media, macramé, designs, books from the braille hub, as well as poetry chapbooks and creative writing from the Writers’ Group in HMP Magilligan. The array of art forms is indicative of the diversity of talent and skill base of the PAF artists and students.
Once known as Europe’s Alcatraz, the A listed building seemed the appropriate setting where a number of cells were used to display artworks by Stephen Geer and Bobby Matheson. Tom Shortt, Arts Officer with the Irish Prison Service also displayed works from a number of Irish prisons. The collaborative process and building of new relationships are an important part of the shared experience.
PAF’s Chairman, Oliver Brannigan is a dedicated advocate of the arts in prison and believes that “very often there is little recognition or support for those operating within the criminal justice system.” Oliver explained that all who attended the exhibition provided “encouragement and endorsement” adding that PAF “is dedicated to the objective of ensuring that everyone, in the care of the system, who wishes to or can be persuaded has the opportunity to be involved in the pursuit of one or more of its [PAF’s] many disciplines.” Oliver further highlighted the words of American Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Ellen Goodman: ‘I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.’ Oliver’s conviction is that “one small difference will amount to something substantial for the benefit of all” and this is integral to PAF’s ethos.
Talent and potential
Speaking at PAF’s annual showcase event, Executive Director, Fred Caulfield said:
“Through engagement in artistic activities our students create works of value, for display and public exhibition. Each year, PAF stage an exhibition of work in locations such as arts venues and galleries, community spaces, public buildings and prison environments. We do this to showcase the talent and potential, of both serving prisoners and those who are involved with the criminal justice system, in the hope that audiences view each artist as an individual, allowing them to see their emotions through sculpture, paint, music and spoken word, often causing the reconsideration of their negative stereotypes.”
PAF’s coordinator, Adele Campbell added that
“This year the ‘Limited Edition’ exhibition in Crumlin Road Gaol was attended by approximately 150 individuals, including people from organisations working within the criminal justice system, our funders and supporters, as well as the artists, their family and friends.”
Tom Shortt overseeing arts engagement for 13 prisons within the Irish Prison Service commented:
“It is well worth doing these events as a lot of good things flow from the occasion. It was really important to have Stephen Greer at the event to talk about his work and bring it alive for people. Paddy Nash’s singing added some real atmosphere, and it was great to see how it was a positive occasion for families and friends.”
Other visitor comments from the exhibition included:
“Great to see artwork of personal excellence.”
“Wonderful as usual.”
“Fab – such talent.”
“Well done to all involved.”
“Stunning artwork! We are so impressed.”
“Fantastic exhibition – some amazing artwork!”
“Wow! So inspired by all of the different mediums/methods used in their art! Fabulous!”
“Amazing and inspiring. Please put the exhibition on for longer next time!”
“Truly BEAUTIFUL, thank you.”