There has been something of an abundance of lockdown-themed exhibitions over the last year. As part of its re-opening programme, HOME in Manchester is instead turning its attention to the experience and creativity of those living under a different set of restrictions (though who have particularly suffered under the changes brought about by the pandemic).
Soul Journey to Truth is an exhibition of 135 artworks by people living in prisons, secure settings, and on probation in the North West of England. The works were selected from entries to the 2020 Koestler Awards – an annual scheme run by Koestler Arts, the UK’s leading prison arts charity, which promotes artistic achievement in the criminal justice system and secure sectors. It is curated by Lady Unchained (Brenda Birungi) of Unchained Poetry – an artistic platform for artists with lived experience of the criminal justice system – and forms part of Ripples of Hope, a five-day festival that will take place across Greater Manchester from 15-19 September celebrating the power of people to challenge oppression and bring about change. Many of the artworks were created during the height of the pandemic in establishments which had 23-hour lockups in place.
Prisoners are among those with the smallest voices within our society and Soul Journey to Truth seeks to highlight important stories that would otherwise go unheard. The exhibition will span visual art, music and writing, and will be organised around the themes of self-reflection, forests, animals, texts, paths, and Black History (taking its title from the word ‘sojourner’, meaning a person who resides temporarily in a place, and in honour of Sojourner Truth, a Black American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who was born into slavery in New York but escaped to freedom in 1826). An online soundscape and wider playlist will also accompany the show, with particular emphasis on the voices of women within the criminal justice system.
Prisons have long functioned as society’s way of placing those it has failed out of sight and out of mind. Exhibitions such as this must surely play an important role in tackling the dehumanisation that occurs and raising greater awareness around the experiences of those who undergo incarceration.