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Upper Hutt shines spotlight on prisoners’ art

Upper Hutt shines spotlight on prisoners’ art

An exhibition in Upper Hutt’s Expressions Whirinaki arts centre, opening on 29 September and on throughout October, is a chance for the public to purchase artwork by prisoners and support their journey to rehabilitation.

Jacqui Moyes, Arts in Corrections Advisor, Arts Access Aotearoa, says many of the 270 guests at the recent Plate to Gate dinners, held over three evenings in Rimutaka Prison, were keen to buy the prisoners’ artwork on display during the evening.

“This exhibition is a good example of the local community supporting the prisoners to showcase what they have achieved,” she says. “It’s also providing a rare opportunity for the public to support Arts in Corrections and buy some fantastic art.”

In addition, the proceeds of sales from artworks will be donated to Women’s Refuge.

Leanne Wickham, the Director of Expressions Whirinaki, is working with two volunteer art tutors at Rimutaka Prison, Karina Fraser and Matt Weavers, to organise the exhibition.

“We are very pleased to be hosting this exhibition from an often unseen part of our community,” Leanne says. “This is an important way for us to shine a spotlight on the good work being done in Rimutaka, where art-making is seen as a form of positive creative expression and is being used to help rehabilitate the men.
“It’s also an opportunity for the artists inside to share their skills and show their artwork in a safe and meaningful way. For the Upper Hutt community, it’s a chance for people to view the exhibition and support the men’s journey.”
Around 20 artworks will be on display, all based around themes of insects, flora and fauna. There are paintings and drawings of dragonflies and butterflies, a praying mantis, flowers and ferns.

In June this year, Karina Fraser was presented a Corrections Volunteer Award by Hon Louise Upston, Minister of Corrections. She’s been volunteering for more than 20 years at Rimutaka Prison, initially as a mentor with her husband, Grant. Five years ago, she became an art tutor in the prison’s Drug Treatment Unit.

“I’ve seen lives changed in here,” Karina says. “I’m motivated by the potential I see in the men and the therapy that art can provide. It’s a way for some men to tell their stories without talking.

“Many of the men in my art classes have never done art before and it can unlock deep things in them. Drawing or painting what they want to say can be a powerful tool, particularly for men who are illiterate or unable to express themselves through words,

“Often, their artwork becomes a part of them and is very precious to them. One young guy has done his first artwork and that will be given to his family after the exhibition.”

There are nine Drug Treatment Units in prisons around New Zealand – all aiming to reduce re-offending by treating drug and alcohol addictions. The first unit was set up at Arohata Prison in Wellington in 1997. Te Tai Whenua o Heretaunga now provides Drug Treatment Services at three of the nine units: Rimutaka, Hawkes Bay and Waikeria Prisons.

Rimutaka’s Drug Treatment Unit operates two programmes with 30 men in each programme. Karina facilitates the Thursday morning art session while Matt Weavers facilitates the afternoon session with men in the other programme. Around 10 men choose to do the art session in each programme.

In addition, the men in the Drug Treatment Unit have access to canvases, paper, pencils and paint to work in their cells.

Certainly, the men in the art room one recent Thursday morning seem to value the opportunity to undertake the programme. “Kindness. That’s the biggest thing we get in the DTU. It goes a long way,” says *Hone, strumming the guitar.

“I’ve never understood a lot of stuff before about my feelings and behaviour,” *Aaron says. “The support from the staff and tutors like Karina has been awesome. They care about you, and want you to make the right choices and do the right thing.

“I’ve been in jail a long time and art is my therapy – a place I can come and be creative and get inspiration. Doing art keeps me good because I don’t want to lose the privilege.”

For *Brent, being in the Drug Treatment Unit – and prison in general – has been helpful. “It’s made me realise that I want something better with my life. One of the main things I’ve learned in the DTU is about self-awareness: being open and learning to believe I’m worth something.”

Brent, aged 22, is a prolific artist and says art has always been a part of his life. “I did art at school but I wagged a lot. If I could go back I’d do things differently but I’m still young and I have time to achieve things. When I get out, I plan to get a job and built up my art portfolio and surround myself with the right people.”

As for *Wiremu, he describes art as his serenity. “Art is my antidote to my negative thinking and behaviour. When I do art, it takes my worries away.”
*Not the men’s real names.

Soul City Church in Upper Hutt provides the art materials and the Creative Communities Scheme (Creative New Zealand and the Upper Hutt City Council) has also supported the programme.

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