Casey Chafin | For the Duquesne Duke
A new exhibit on the third floor of the Duquesne Union showcases artwork and poetry created by an unusual group of artists — prison inmates.
Last week, “Art Beyond Bars” opened in the Union’s Les Idees Gallery with pieces by inmates of the State Correctional Institution of Pittsburgh, according to Duquesne professor and the project’s faculty advisor, Elaine Parsons.
Curated by several Duquesne graduate students, the exhibit contains approximately 25 pieces of art, with some inmates submitting multiple works, according to Parsons.
The goal of the showcase is to provide “an invaluable new perspective to conversations on punishment and rehabilitation,” while portraying themes of “self reflection, imprisonment, religion, family, community and love,” according to a plaque at the beginning of the exhibit.
“Art Behind Bars” evolved out of a program called Inside-Out, according to Parsons, which offers classes inside the prison for Duquesne students and SCI Pittsburgh inmates, according to Inside-Out’s web page.
SCI Pittsburgh is a minimum security facility that mainly houses inmates with substance abuse issues, according to their website.
According to Parsons, the inmates enjoyed the program. “Men in classes with the Duquesne students wanted a more permanent relationship with Duquesne,” Parsons said.
This led Duquesne professor Norman Conti to create a think tank, which includes several professors and six inmates, to focus on how the prison can play a larger role in the community. According to Parsons, several inmates already created art regularly, so the idea of an art showcase came naturally.
“We definitely plan on making it a recurring event,” Parsons said. “We are already talking about hosting another event next year.”
Parsons said next year’s theme will most likely be the three boxes that SCI Pittsburgh inmates receive to keep their possessions in. Because most of the men are serving life sentences, these boxes often contain items that are several decades old.
The showcase is on display through April 30.