Prisoner Art Exhibited in Cell-Sized Space at San Diego Museum

A piece in “Art Transports Us Out of Bounds: Prison Arts in San Diego” at the Oceanside Museum of Art.
Project PAINT at Donovan.

Project PAINT at Donovan.

Inmates at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, a men’s maximum-security prison in San Diego, are getting the artist treatment.

A new exhibition at the Oceanside Museum of Art,”Art Transports Us Out of Bounds: Prison Arts in San Diego,” will display 100 pencil drawings and sculptures made by Donovan prisoners. Most items can be seen in a 6-by-9-foot space to mimic the size of standard prison cell, according to KPBS.

A piece in “Art Transports Us Out of Bounds: Prison Arts in San Diego” at the Oceanside Museum of Art.

A piece in “Art Transports Us Out of Bounds: Prison Arts in San Diego” at the Oceanside Museum of Art.

Jail bars surround the exhibition and an audio loop of sounds heard in a prison transports viewers into the men’s closed off world. Intricate sculptures can be seen including a wooden dollhouse by inmate, James Fox, which depicts a family of four in a suburban setting, while another sculpture made to look like a book hosts a contorted stick figure on one side and a collage of a rose and butterfly on the other with text that says “Being Light in a Hopeless World.”

The show is a result of Project PAINT at Donovan State Prison, an initiative founded by Laura Pecenco, who started it as part of her Ph.D studies in sociology at UC San Diego, after she discovered funds had been withdrawn from California prison art programs.

“Art Transports Us Out of Bounds: Prison Arts in San Diego” co-curators Tara Centybear and Laura Pecenco. Photo: Promise Yee

“Art Transports Us Out of Bounds: Prison Arts in San Diego” co-curators Tara Centybear and Laura Pecenco.
Photo: Promise Yee

Pecenco, who also co-curated the show, told KPBS that she found in her studies that “arts programs reduce violence in prisons, create a safer environment for prisoners and staff and decrease the number of inmates who return to prison after release.”

Whether or not it makes prisoners less violent, art has surely been used in prison to barter for other desired commodities as was shown in the case of Richard W. Matt, who recently escaped from prison using tools he obtained by bartering his art with prison guards.

Oceanside Museum of Art opened its doors in 1997 to connect the San Diego art community with the greater Southern California region.

 A dollhouse wood sculpture created by James Fox, an inmate at Donovan state prison. Photo: Promise Yee

A dollhouse wood sculpture created by James Fox, an inmate at Donovan state prison.
Photo: Promise Yee

Art Transports Us Out of Bounds: Prison Arts in San Diego” is on view through August 16, 2015.


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