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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Private View: First Impressions - Portraits from Prison

Yesterday we hosted the Private View of First Impressions - Portraits from Prison at St Martin-in-the-Fields. I welcomed guests with the following:

This exhibition has been curated by the Koestler Trust at the invitation of the Prisons Mission of Churches Together in Westminster. The exhibition has been at St James Piccadilly and Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church prior to coming here and we are all thrilled to have the opportunity to show artworks by prisoners that demonstrate both the remarkable capabilities of the artists and the restorative power of art.

As a member of Churches Together in Westminster and as supporters of the Prison Mission we are, therefore, very pleased to host this exhibition and contribute to its awareness raising role - awareness of the organisations involved and the significant work they do plus awareness of the experiences of those in prison and of issues faced within our prisons. The speeches we will hear shortly will assist in furthering our awareness of these issues.

‘First Impressions’ features a range of portraits using diverse approaches to portraiture and showing viewers the potential of those in the criminal justice system. Most of the portraits have been created in prisons, with some created in other settings, such as secure forensic hospitals and by people on probation.

Here at St Martin's we often ask ourselves wondering questions and I suggest that asking such questions of this exhibition will be of real help in responding to it, particularly to ask, ‘I wonder why that person is of significance or importance to that artist?’ It is a truism, but portraits flag up to us the importance of people and that importance is perhaps never more significant than when we are cut off from those we love or when we are locked up with those we have not chosen as our companions.

These portraits are not academic exercises in life drawing. Instead, these are portraits which are alive with meaning and significance because of the connection which the artist senses with their subject. I encourage you to reflect on the significance of those relationships as you view this exhibition, to allow this exhibition to simply remind you of the significant people in your own life, as well as the vital importance of connecting with those in confinement so they do not lose touch with our wider society and have the relationships they need to integrate back into society once their sentence has been served. Prisoners are out of sight. They must not also be out of mind.

The Private View included talks from prisons experts and audience questions to the panel. Juliet Lyon CBE, Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, addressed the question 'Can Prisons Work - for offenders, for victims, for taxpayers?', alongside Professor Nick Hardwick (former Chief Inspector of Prisons and former Chair of the Parole Board), and Dame Anne Owers (former Chief Inspector of Prisons and Chair of Trustees for the Koestler Trust).

Among many helpful and striking comments were the following:

  • We are asking too much of prisons. 
  • We should be promoting any other way of serving time, so that Prisons can be the institution of last resort. 
  • Prisons can scarcely function as overcrowded, neglected, least visible institutions. 
  • Prison takes away agency, we have to change the narrative.
  • "an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man.” - quote from Winston Churchill
  • Chaplaincies have been a bright spark in every prison visited.
  • Great examples exist of churches involved in resettlement.
  • Many reformers are people of faith.

The Rt. Rev. Richard Moth, Bishop of Arundel & Brighton and Liaison Bishop for Prisons sent a message saying: 'The medium of Art often provides a most effective expression for the deepest of human thought and emotion. For many, it is a means to a renewed sense of value and self-worth and a significant step on the journey of life. The Koestler Trust and Churches Together in Westminster, merit congratulations on this high-profile exhibition. I am sure it will do much to bring raise awareness of the needs of all in prison and those who work with them.'


Wings - Band On The Run.

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