Presented by The Torch, Confined is an annual exhibition of works from Indigenous artists currently in or recently released from prison. For the first time it will be at the Glen Eira Town Hall Gallery from 13 May to 6 June to accommodate the ever-increasing number of artists and artworks. Confined 12 can also be viewed online at The Torch website.
With a record 350 artworks from 320 artists from 16 correctional facilities across Victoria, this collection of works is a strong visual metaphor for the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system.
“The mass incarceration of First nations Australians is a national disgrace,” said Kent Morris, CEO The Torch. Fortunately, organisations such as The Torch, show that Indigenous led and delivered solutions to some of the ongoing issues caused by systemic over incarceration can be addressed successfully if driven by the Indigenous community.”
This year’s exhibition includes an extraordinary range of paintings and three-dimensional artworks including a 2.2m high culturally carved wooden post and lintel construction and Brancusi like vertical sculptures, woven baskets, bush dyed silk scarves, decorative ceramic homewares, an intricate model motorbike made from matchsticks and coffee stirrers, an array of shields, boomerangs, clapsticks and painted yidaki’s.
All works will be available for purchase from the gallery and online with 100% of the sales going to the artist. For participants, the creation and sale of their artworks is part of the rehabilitation process that helps build confidence, social capital, economic stability and pathways to reconnect with the community.
2021 marks 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its historic reporting, with over three hundred recommendations to end Black deaths in custody. In the 10 years The Torch program has been running, several participants have died in custody including a cousin of The Torch’s CEO Kent Morris.
“Three decades later, Australian governments have failed to implement the majority of these recommendations and First Nations peoples are dying in custody at horrendous rates, with over 470 lives lost in the last 30 years,” said Morris. “In 2021 alone, seven First Nations people have died since March.”
“Indigenous communities are driven to provide sustainable, culturally appropriate and connecting solutions to the dire impacts of the over incarceration of our people because it affects us deeply in so many ways, on so many levels.”
The knowledge and experiences of Community Elders and those participating in The Torch program continues to define the program’s design and delivery. The employment of men and women from the program to work on all aspects, including going back into prison to support others, has been significant to its ongoing success.
The organisation now employs 18 permanent staff, 12 are Aboriginal men and women – five of whom have transitioned through the in-prison and in-community programs to now work at The Torch.
In 2016, the Victorian government developed the Aboriginal Art Policy Model allowing Indigenous men and women in the program to sell their artworks while still in custody. Under the policy, a major percentage of the money received from the sale and licensing of artworks is held in trust by the Department of Corrections until the participant is released from prison.
Individual requests from in-prison participants can be made to release money for specific approved purposes such as supporting children’s education costs, funeral expenses and supporting family members looking after the children of those incarcerated.
Since 2016, The Torch has sold and licensed over $1,500,000 worth of artworks for participants, alleviating some of the financial disadvantage and barriers faced whilst in and when exiting the prison system.
Additional post release economic participation and skills development has also been provided in the form of mural painting, media events, artwork commissions, speaking and workshop engagements, as well as ongoing and casual employment with The Torch. By embracing program participants as artists rather than offenders, The Torch provides an avenue to change.
Confined 12 can be viewed in-person at the Glen Eira Town Hall Gallery from 13 May to 6 June. The exhibition of works can also be viewed online from 13 May 2021. For more information, visit: www.thetorch.org.au for details.
Image: Overseeing Bunjil, 2021 (detail), Zac (Wadawurrung) – courtesy of The Torch