The United States incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other country in the world, and within that pool of prisoners, LGBTQ individuals face the highest risk of physical and sexual victimization. Due to their sexuality and gender identities, they’re more likely to be mistreated by correctional officers, and less likely to have a familial support system outside of prison. Forced to shed their identities and become numbers, many marginalized Americans are placed behind bars simply because they lack the resources for proper defense.
As a nation, we’ve ignored these prisoners’ stories for too long, but a new exhibition finally gives them a voice by featuring more than 450 original artworks by incarcerated Americans. Hosted at New York’s Abrons Arts Center and conceived by Tatiana von Furstenberg, ON THE INSIDE explores themes of identity, sexuality, eroticism, love, spirituality, and celebrity—a project that resulted from a small call for art in a monthly publication, Black and Pink, filled with prisoner-generated material.
Prisoners submitted more than 4,000 pieces of artwork, all created using the limited resources they had access to behind bars, from letter-sized paper to dull pencils and ball-point pen ink tubes. One incarcerated artist used an asthma inhaler and Kool-Aid to create an air-brushed painting—innovation at its finest. The impressive output of submissions saw a vast array of celebrity portraiture—so much that ON THE INSIDE has an entire section dedicated exclusively to Rihanna.
The exhibit is open now and runs through Dec. 18, allowing guests to text all featured artists through a transcribing service, since they inevitably won’t be on site for the show’s six-week run. Longterm pen pals can also be arranged if that’s of interest to patrons, though the art will not be for sale. Learn more, here.