Prisoners find freedom through power of art

Some of the art on display at the Serco SQCC Art Exhibition.
Some of the art on display at the Serco SQCC Art Exhibition. Contributed


INSPIRING: A portrait of Barack Obama on display at the Serco SQCC Art Exhibition.
INSPIRING: A portrait of Barack Obama on display at the Serco SQCC Art Exhibition. Contributed

SOMETIMES art can emerge from the most unexpected places.

Take for example the exhibition currently on display at Queensland's Parliament House.

Art viewers might be amazed to discover the beautiful paintings hanging on the walls are the handiwork of prison inmates.

The impressive collection focuses on artwork produced by offenders from the Serco Southern Queensland Correctional Centre (SQCC).

Some of the contributing artists are serving sentences from 10 years to life imprisonment.

But their criminal backgrounds almost seem insignificant when admiring each great work of art.

The exhibition is the product of a formal art course that is offered to prisoners at the Lockyer Valley facility.

Under the guidance of art instructors, the program has taught inmates how to use art as a healing tool or expressive outlet.

Prisoners have developed skills in oils, pencil, leather work and pottery to discover hidden talents and develop confidence.

SQCC director Mark Walters said education was promoted at the centre as a tool to assist in rehabilitation.

He said the art program, though not compulsory, was proving to be popular.

"Art is an individual process and it can mean so much to these men," he said.

"It's not just about wanting to paint, it allows them to examine their life, what they've done and perhaps work through some affirmations for the future."

The art show at Parliament House features 17 pieces from six different prisoner artists.

Mr Walters said an earlier exhibition was held in Gatton where more than 80 pieces of the inmates' artwork was showcased.

He said the exhibition had received overwhelmingly positive public response and prompted audiences to think about people in prison.

"A lot of people have a stereotypical view on what a prisoner is," he said.

"Generally they don't see past the prison tag but not all the guys are violent, hardened criminals.

"The majority are just people who have made mistakes which might have been because they came from an impoverished background or social exclusion or something like that.

"So I think that when people see displays like this they realise that just because people are in prison, it doesn't mean they're evil."

While the prisoners aren't able to attend the exhibition, Mr Walters said they were always thrilled to have their work seen by the public.

As a big part of reparation, the group of prisoners have also created art works to help support communities and charitable organisations.

In particular, a three-piece indigenous art painting was created by SQCC prisoners and sold to raise funds for the Arthur Beetson Foundation.

The artwork made $10,000 to benefit the foundation. The Serco SQCC Art Exhibition will be on display in the foyer of Parliament House for the next two weeks.

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