Art from Within: Art by Incarcerated Artists

May 22, 2019 JIE Updates

by Fonda Shen

This semester, the Justice-in-Education Initiative, in an effort led by Mia Ruyter, partnered with arts educator Laura Betancur and El Museo del Barrio to bring a series of art workshops to incarcerated men. During the eight-week-long program, Betancur, Ruyter, and volunteers from Columbia brought art supplies along with a commitment to justice to the incarcerated students. On May 18, during El Museo del Barrio’s Super Sabado, an exhibit of the artwork produced by the program’s students opened at the museum, fulfilling one of the workshop’s primary goals: to bring the stories of the students to the outside.

The students, or rather, artists, made art for themselves, for the family and friends that they are waiting to return to, and for anyone who strolls through El Museo. In images that ranged from walks along the beach and   familiar city skylines to expressions of hope for a more just society, their art reflected the diverse thoughts and emotions of the artists themselves.

The exhibition was a reflection of the program, which encouraged the artists to use art as a form of self-care and as a form of external expression. During the workshops, artists would  share how they hoped the world would change and what they hoped to do when they were out. With hands covered in paint and glue, the artists exchanged stories about their own neighborhoods, families, and friends. But the sessions would always end with a wall full of art and ideas.

“There are no mistakes in art,” Betancur would frequently say during the workshops. Just a quick glance through the exhibition would reveal that she was absolutely right.

Fonda Shen is a rising junior at Columbia College majoring in Political Science. She is also a deputy editor at the Columbia Daily Spectator, where she writes primarily about the intersection between art and social justice.