Inmates participating in art making workshop at Klungkung jail.
In early April this year Australian contemporary artist, Mary Lou Pavlovic, was advised by the apexart gallery New York that the proposal she’d written in response to their open call Apex Franchise Exhibition, offering four funded exhibition opportunities, had been successful. Pavlovic ranked third out of almost four hundred proposals from sixty-one countries. Over two hundred international art expert jurors had voted for her proposal to curate an exhibition in Bali about artists and prisoners collaborations arising from prison workshops.
Apexart is a non-profit arts organization in Lower Manhattan, NYC, funded in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation, that offers opportunities to independent curators and emerging and established artists, and challenges ideas about art, its practice, and its curation.
“I received an email advising me to contact the apexart Director, Steven Rand, who said he had good news,” Pavlovic said. “So I thought I’d better call Apex and tell them of a hoax someone was running about them. Then, when I called, to my surprise, they confirmed that I had been selected, and that it wasn’t a hoax at all!”
From 2012-16, when in Bali, Pavlovic had been a regular visitor to inmates inside Balinese jails where she had witnessed the humanitarian benefits of art programs. “Prisoner’s lives are placed on hold and their space confined to the parameters of a prison. I realized, although prisoners couldn’t physically move very far, they could travel great distances with their imaginations by participating in arts activities,” said the artist who lives and works between Bali, and Mittagong, Australia, and completed a PhD at Monash University, Melbourne.
“Inmates could also learn valuable skills and undertake enjoyable activities to relieve the daily monotony of prison life.”
Pavlovic was also aware that practically universally a function of modern prisons is to hide prisoners away from the rest of society. An exhibition involving prisoners and artists, she thought, would help to break down this barrier. It would allow the public an opportunity to reflect on their own perceptions of prisoners and prisons, along with the prisoners the opportunity to be seen in the role of artistic producers, rather than solely as criminals, and of little value to society.
The upcoming exhibition, organized and curated by Pavlovic, Dipping in the Kool Aid, (American jail slang for entering uninvited into a conversation) will be held at the Tony Raka Art Gallery, in Ubud, Bali, in 4 – 31 March 2018. The show will feature the artworks of prisoners, artworks produced from workshops given by contemporary artists in the Bali prisons, and independently produced studio works by some of the invited artists relating to aspects of prison and the incarceration system.
Pavlovic is interested in taking the exhibition beyond a community type art show in which members of a social group are asked to express themselves through art, and the therapeutic benefits of that process becomes the exhibition theme. “Exhibitions displaying prisoners artworks are common, but I think that if our project’s aim was only to display prisoner’s artworks, regardless of their artistic capabilities, then professional artists may not need to be involved at all,” she said.
Inmates at Klungkung jail art making
“There are so many highly capable creative people in jails, and so I thought that a more interesting and challenging way to address the exhibition, than a straightforward community art show, would be through a type of artistic laboratory in which the artists and prisoners skills are equally valued.”
With these ideas in mind, Pavlovic invited foreign international artists and Indonesian artists to give a range of workshops predominantly in the Klungkung Prison, East Bali. The workshops began in August, continuing on until March 2018 prior to the exhibition. East Javanese artist Djunaidi Kenyut conducts workshops inviting inmates to etch their own portraits onto postcard size mirrors. The prisoners become active agents in shaping his idea, and the overall work. The outcomes are ghostly etchings with viewers reflected in them.
“In the Klungkung prison there are about 100 inmates of which there is one person who is very enthusiastic to participate in the workshops, and there are others who like to join in. But I am very happy to witness their passion to know and learn to try new activities such as drawing,” Kenyut said.
Pavlovic provides lectures for women inmates involving embedding living things, like flowers leaves and berries in resin, to preserve life. At the prisoner’s request the group have incorporated butterflies, yet as the program continues the prisoners will incorporate items into their works that are important to them, such as family photos.
Other workshops conducted include East Javanese artist Imam Sucahyo who is posting drawings to inmates requesting their input, and Australian contemporary sculptor Rodney Glick, who has invited prisoners to his cafe, Seniman, at the Tony Raka Art Gallery, for work experience and to learn about art.
Glick said, the Seniman coffee ethos is to create happiness. “What better way for people who crave freedom than to work a little and enjoy a coffee on the outside!” Other artists included in the upcoming exhibition are internationally renowned Indonesian artists Agung Mangu Putra and Angki Purbandono, along with the Prison Art Program founding members, and Elizabeth Gower, Alannah Russack and Pavlovic.
Dipping in the Kool Aid
Upcoming 3 – 21 March 2018
Tony Raka Art Gallery, Mas, Ubud
Words: Richard Horstman
Images: Mary Lou Pavlovic