Prison Art Arrives at Governors Island in ‘Escaping Time’ Show

Anthony Papa, "15 to Life.
Photo: Escaping Time: Art From U.S. Prisons.

“Escaping Time: Art From US Prisons,” an exhibition opening this weekend on Governors Island, looks to highlight the power of rehabilitation.

Featuring 200 artworks including pieces by noted prisoner-turned-painter Anthony Papa as well as condemned killer Charles Manson (but not by recently-killed escapee Richard W. Matt), the show also serves as a reminder of the island’s historic past.

Today, Governors Island is New York’s summer playground, a picturesque island full of art, bike trails, and shaded picnic spots, but not that long ago, its 19th-century fort, Castle Williams, was actually used as a prison, first during the Civil War, and later for offenders within the US Army.

“Art offers prisoners a new conviction that, although their circumstances may seem inescapable, their memories, experiences, and hopeful dispositions are preserved,” explained curator Anastasia Voron, director of exhibitions at New York’s Wallplay, in a statement. She sees art as a therapeutic means of escapism for inmates, allowing them to focus on something other than their confinement.

The Safe Streets Arts Foundation, dedicated to using art to help rehabilitate persons in the prison system, organized the show. They hope to help inmates establish productive careers as artists after their release, facilitating their reintegration into society.

Sadly, not every prisoner-artist gets that chance. Bali 9 inmate Myuran Sukumaran was recently executed, despite international calls for clemency.

For Papa, art literally gave him a way out of prison, when Mike Kelley chose his painting “15 Years to Life – Self-Portrait” for inclusion in an installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Papa was eventually pardoned by Governor George Pataki.

The exhibition includes a selection of Papa’s oil paintings, which now sell for thousands of dollars. Except for Manson’s work, every artwork is available for sale and is accompanied by a handwritten letter from the artist.

Anthony Papa. "Abstract of the Hudson From Sing Sing." Photo:

Anthony Papa. “Abstract of the Hudson From Sing Sing.”

“Escaping Time: Art From U.S. Prisons,” is on view at Governors Island on the weekends from August 1–September 27, 2015.

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