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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Under The Microscope: Exploring Art Behind Bars

Raw, powerful, emotive … women in arts like you’ve never seen before. Not Who You Think I Am features multimedia works created by women incarcerated in Texas prisons. Many of the pieces are moving and spellbinding, and they show a human, sympathetic side of these prisoners that is impossible to ignore.

This must-see exhibit is presented by Resolana – a nonprofit organization that works to both educate and empower incarcerated women. Resolana Director Bette Buschow said, “Art is a tool for processing emotional issues, coping with stress and gaining self-awareness and insight.”

The participants of this program are involved in a series of artistic exercises – each designed to help them explore an aspect of themselves. The opportunity for these women to use art as an emotional outlet seemed to benefit them tremendously. It enabled them to open a door to their innermost feelings through creativity. When viewing their work, one is taken on a remarkable journey with the artist.

In each section, there was a brief explanation of the exercises on display. One wall of the exhibit contained artist’s time lines, done in crayon. Every piece was a poignant bio and many contained heart-breaking information … loss of a loved one, drug addiction, divorce, etc.

Many had hand-drawn images of tombstones, chapels, etc. Most referenced making an effort to get better and turning a corner. The emotional depth revealed in the time lines must have served as a cathartic release for many of the artists.

Another section contained decorated "good girl" and "bad girl" dolls. In this exercise, participants were given two dolls and told to create a good girl and bad girl doll. The dolls ran the gamut from well dressed to stripper. Buschow indicated that most women created the bad girls first and spoke about wanting to be the good girl. By the end of the exercise many realized that they were actually a combination of both the “good” and the “bad” girl.

This program allows women who may be opposed to “typical” therapy an emotive outlet that had positive results. By choosing a nontraditional mode of therapy, some participants were able to come to terms and move past their traumatic life experiences. One woman enjoyed the artistry so much that she brought it back to her cell. She diluted skittles and coffee grinds to use as paint. This thought-provoking exhibit will leave one with both haunting images and hope for the future.

By Liz Tramer