Art behind bars

Fancy an exclusive peek at some of the x-rated art drawn by convicts and prisoners on their cell walls in Fremantle gaol?

As part of Fremantle heritage week, the prison is putting on a special art tour that will focus on the murals, artowrk and graffiti left behind on cell and exercise yard walls.

The tour includes everything from languid landscapes to pieces featuring extreme profanity and nudity that are not normally shown to the public.

Assisstant curator Eleanor Lambert says some of the guerilla artwork dates back to 1854.

“In May 1852 James Walsh, aged 21,  was sentenced to fifteen years transportation for

the crime of forgery,” she says.

“Walsh served two separate sentences at the Convict Establishment and his cell at Fremantle Prison is covered in sketches, which date between 1854-1863.

“Though very little is known about him, the standard of his artwork has earned him a place in the Dictionary of Australian Artists.”

• Cock and Dragon fighting by Fremantle Prison inmate Bobby Thornton in 1989.

Art eventually became part of the prison’s educational program in the years preceeding its closure in 1991.

The first art teachers where employed at the gaol in 1978 and more than 2000 students enrolled within the first five years.

Initially the classes were only for Aboriginal prisoners, but as their popularity grew they were made available to other inmates.

Ms Lambert says that in addition to the guerilla artwork on cell and exercise yard walls, the prison has over 500 “moveable” artworks by prisoners in its official collection, with most pieces created between 1978 and 1991.

“There is no particular style which is more prominent within the collection; rather the artwork produced seems to be an expression of the artists’ individual tastes, talents and culture,” Ms Lambert says.

“The artwork produced by these prisoners allows us a valuable insight into their personal prison experiences, giving these men a voice.

“In the context of Fremantle Prison the art collection also provides an insightful and much more informed perspective on the lived experience of incarceration.”

“The majority of the artwork in the Prison’s Collection was left onsite when the

Prison closed in 1991.

“If a prisoner created or acquired something during their incarceration, which they did not have when they were first admitted to prison, they had to apply for that article to be added to their record, so that such items could be taken with them when they left or were transferred.

It is likely that a number of the artworks now in the Fremantle Prison Collection were never claimed by prisoners in this way.”

The Fremantle Prison art tour is on Saturday May 19 and June 2.

 

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