Confined 11 is an exhibition with a difference. The virtual exhibition presents the work of 286 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who are currently in or have recently been released from prison.
An annual showcase presented by The Torch, this year is the 11th Confined exhibition. The Torch is an organisation aimed at supporting Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders in Victoria through art, culture and arts vocation programs.
Due to COVID-19, Confined 11 has gone online—the first time in its 11-year history. The exhibition this year showcases over 300 artworks which tell the stories of personal connection to Country, culture and community.
The Torch CEO and proud Barkindji man, Kent Morris, said the programs within Confined aim to provide a platform for truth telling.
“It is about Indigenous men and women who are incarcerated coming through that process of incarceration having a voice,” Morris said.
The virtual gallery enables visitors to have a realistic 3D experience of the exhibition and the opportunity to purchase art which is priced between $80 and $7,500.
One hundred percent of each artwork’s sale price will go into the pockets of the creators, enabling both those incarcerated and those recently released to have an income stream and a way to support themselves.
“It is a way not only [to] try to heal the wounds of the past but to develop new pathways. Not only in terms of cultural exploration in art but in terms of the economy and financial stability and certainty,” said Morris.
“There can be a double disadvantage in this country, you can be Indigenous, and you can be an ex-offender. So, your access to opportunities can be limited but through the arts and connection to culture and production of art, doors can open.”
“I’ve been doing this program for a long time and I’ve seen programs that have trained Indigenous men and women with skills that just don’t translate to the outside world for many … reasons. But our art, Indigenous art and the Indigenous art market, that is something that breaks down all the barriers.
“Men and women sometimes have been ostracised by … their community, but also the wider community, and the more our people feel out of place, and we have a whole history of that … the more difficult it becomes to find your place. This is a way to find that place.”
Thomas Marks, otherwise known as Marksey, is one of the artists exhibiting work in Confined 11. The Wotjobaluk/Gunaikurnai man joined The Torch program in 2018 after meeting Morris whilst serving in Ravenhall Correctional Centre.
He has an incredibly personal and unique style which has seen him win two NAIDOC Awards and have his design printed on annual NAIDOC t-shirts.
Marksey started expressing his creativity through poems, which he eventually began to surround with art.
“When I first started, I did poems. Writing them and putting them on canvas and doing some artwork around it to give it that Aboriginal feeling to it,” he said.
“I do a lot of stuff based on my past life growing up, as a Stolen Generation child. I draw a lot on that as I didn’t grow up with parents or family.
“I drew on my life as a young fella growing up in a non-Indigenous world and society, I guess that is where I feel most comfortable.”
Feeling a connection to his art, Marksey found it to be a way of healing and a source of resilience.
“In a way for me it is a healing process, I like talking about stuff, my story and getting it out there to let people know how it is and how it was for me. And probably how it still is for me because it is something that never really goes away,” he said.
“It does make me feel good. A lot earlier on in my prison sentence, once I got introduced to the artwork, I got canvases and that. It was one of the things that got me through my prison sentence.
“I could sit there all day while I was in prison in my room and just paint away and I wouldn’t even feel like I was in prison. Until you go outside and then you realise!
“I always knew I was going to get out one day and I guess my focus was that I already knew I was going to stay out, I always knew I was never going back.”
Having served his sentence, Marksey still loves to paint, staying true to his roots but developing his style further.
“Now I’m out and painting, I’m still loving it. I still do poems every now and then, I try to branch out. Painting means a lot to me; I go with the flow and what makes me feel happy.”
Being virtual, Confined 11 has the potential to have national and international reach, sharing the stories of those who have experienced and are experiencing incarceration in Australia.
“For the people that come to see the exhibition, I say we are all part of the solution when it comes to Indigenous incarceration, the government isn’t going to solve it. The Indigenous community on our own, we can’t solve it, we need a way to bring people together around this difficult issue that the country isn’t addressing,” Morris said.
Confined 11 is open from May 14 to June 7.
For more information on Confined 11 or to access the virtual gallery and shop artworks, visit: https://thetorch.org.au.
By Rachael Knowles