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Tear the Walls Down, Put Up Art

Art show displays work that critiques the industrial prison complex

by Candice Cascanette

Tear the Walls Down, Put Up Art

HALIFAX - Does our justice system stop crimes? Should crimes that are rooted in deeper social and economic problems be punished by imprisonment? A group of radical artists have raised these questions through their artwork.

On January 22, 2009, the opening of Voices from Outside: Artists Against the Prison Industrial Complex, a screenprinted art show took place at Alteregos Café (better known as the Backpacker’s Hostel) on Gottingen St.

The café’s showroom displayed a portfolio of 20 original prints made by artists from Canada, the US, and Mexico, meant to either critique or address alternatives to the prison industrial complex. The prints, although rather small in size, use vibrant colours and simplistic graphics to effectively convey the strong stance the artists have taken against the prison system. The portfolio was a project of Just Seeds, a visual resistance artist cooperative, in conjunction with the Critical Resistance 10 year anniversary conference that took place last fall. Critical resistance is a national grassroots project committed to ending society’s use of prisons and policing to solve social problems. They define the prison industrial complex as a complicated system of government and private interests that use prisons as a solution to social, economic, and political problems, and engages in oppressive systems. The concept of prison abolition does not suggest that the existence of murderers, rapists, or pedophiles be ignored or unaddressed.

“I don’t think anyone in the prison abolition movement is suggesting we replace prisons with nothing, “ explains Helen Hudson, who works in solidarity with political prisoners with a group based in Montreal called Certain Days. “What people are proposing is a justice system that actually contains some justice.”

Helen feels that prisons ostensibly exist to rehabilitate people, stop crimes, and make the world a safer place, but fail to do so. She proposed that by offering people resources that address the fact that crime often occurs because people don’t have other options; creating more employment, attainable housing, community reconciliation processes and alternatives to violence programs, could all be effective ways of preventing what we currently call crime. “A number of the things that are considered criminal, I personally don’t think are.” Helen shares that she sees a lot of these acts as products of poverty, “I think everyone has the right to food and if they take some because they don’t have any money, that’s no reason for them to be locked up.” Helen feels that there wouldn’t be a need for prisons if a lot of problems in society were addressed at the root.

The art opening last Thursday also launched the Certain Days: 2009 Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar, a fundraising and educational initiative between outside organizers and three political prisoners being held in maximum-security prison in New York state, two of which were formerly involved with the Black Panther Party. Certain Days define a political prisoner as someone who is held in confinement for actions, support of, or membership in a group struggling for freedom from oppression, an oppressive government, oppressive government policies, or exploitation of peoples, animals or the Earth. Political prisoners were politically conscious and active in liberation movements prior to their imprisonment. The calendar is meant to serve as an awareness raising and organizational tool to inspire action on the issue of political prisoners and many other social justice issues. It features 42 pages of captivating full-colour art and writing on issues such as AIDS education, Palestinian solidarity, Indigenous resistance against the Olympics, and ending violence against women. For more information about the calendar visit certaindays.org.

The Voices from Outside art show raises questions about the role that prisons and incarceration play in our communities and opposes the prison industrial complex. Regardless of whether or not you’ll agree with the opinions of the featured artists, the portfolio will certainly get you thinking about your own views on the effectiveness of the current prison system that determines the future of so many.

The Voices from Outside art show will be on display until February 1, at Alteregos Café at 2193 Gottingen Street. Viewing is completely free.

Candice Cascanette reports for the Dalhousie Gazette and the CKDU News Collective. She is a student at Dalhousie University.

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