We are all Human - 2016 Koestler Awards
We are all Human is the UK’s annual national showcase of arts by prisoners, ex-offenders on community sentences, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees. This year's was the ninth exhibition in an ongoing partnership between the Koestler Trust and the Southbank Centre.
The show was curated by writer and dub–poet Benjamin Zephaniah. The exhibition featured a wide range of artforms including painting, drawing, matchstick modelling, craft, music and writing, exploring themes of time, contemplation and the natural environment.
A Trailblazers Mentee, Barry, visited the exhibition and shared his thoughts:
"On first appearance and presence I didn’t expect the mixture of ex-offenders and civilians at a gathering wreaking the benefits from criminals who society have deemed as only doing wrong in their lives.
Not expecting the employees to be ex-offenders themselves one of the staff members overheard my conversation with one of my mentors colleagues that I had just been released from prison and questioned, “How long was you inside?” Our conversation continued and I explained my stay and he replied he had also done a little time – 24 days. A little star struck as he was very pleasant and old at the same time I tried to ease the conversation by replying “one day is long enough” to which he amazed me with a response I’ll never forget “no 24 Christmas days.” So this kind gentleman had actually served 24 years and was trying to make light of the situation and put me at ease while I was doing the same for him.
Long gone are the days of hardened criminals. Here I am at an award ceremony for prisoners and their achievements. If only the newspapers’ stereotypical journalists were here to witness such a glorifying spectrum of work achieved and conversations amongst criminals, ex-offenders and civilians.
On entering the exhibition undeniably my greatest witnessing was that of a life-size grandfather clock made from matchsticks. Never before had I witnessed such a sight. Then follows the question “how long must it have taken?” It must have been a lifer. He must be some old school crook with so much time on his hands. It must have taken years. I believe these were the questions on everyone’s minds. Overwhelmed by the size and talent that stood before me I had a photo taken with the magnificent piece of art and placed it on Facebook. Gaining over 100 likes and many questions the greatest achievement for me going to the awards was that of answering all the questions above with a one off smugness – no it was a 17 year old boy who completed the matchstick grandfather clock in under 18 months. Talent lies within and within mysterious places. Criminals today. Artists tomorrow.
The tour progressed but what stood out most besides the great craftsmanship of artistic talent and endless paintings, was most definitely that of the portraits ranging from a size no bigger that a notepad to portraits that could consume an entire wall.
The colours, the sketches, the time, the effort, and what makes every good piece of artwork, and what actually makes it arts itself, is the story behind the piece. In every single case here is a story of triumph and discipline that no matter how hard life may be at times human spirit evolves and adapts. This entire ceremony for great achievements is an exact representation of the trials and tribulations that one must endeavour at times. That no matter how hard or big the wall standing before you you can always achieve your goals. That is undoubtedly what I took away from this celebration of brilliance within struggle."
You can find out more about the exhibition at https://www.koestlertrust.org.uk/exhibitions/we-are-all-human/