The Torch giving voice and pathways to Indigenous artists

REVIEWS

The Torch giving voice and pathways to Indigenous artists currently in or recently released from prisons in Victoria.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. …walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.   Uluru Statement from the Heart 

“The Torch’s success belongs to the voices and lived experiences of our Elders and of Indigenous community members caught in the discriminatory web of Australia’s criminal justice system.  A crucial aspect of the success of The Torch program is deep listening”
Kent Morris Barkindji people Chief Executive Officer, The Torch 

“Painting has really helped me through a tough time. I’ve come out the other side so much stronger and more proud of who I am as an Aboriginal person.
You must feel to be able to heal”  Dargs, Darug people

Presented by The Torch, Confined is an annual exhibition of artworks from Indigenous artists currently in or recently released from prisons in Victoria.  The 14th exhibition, which coincides with National Reconciliation Week, will be on display at the Glen Eira Town Hall Gallery from 5 May to 4 June 2023.

With a record 473 artworks from 402 artists from across Victoria, this collection of works is a strong visual metaphor for the continuing over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system.  
 
232 in-prison artists and 170 in-community artists are represented in Confined 14, many at different stages of their practice – from the 57 artists looking to make their first sale at the exhibition to established artists who are completing large scale public commissions and projects. 
 
An extraordinary range of paintings, 410 in total, and 63 three-dimensional works across different mediums including hand-woven rugs and baskets, carved emu eggs, a terracotta wombat and a range of ceramics including Sean Miller’s work ‘Galibaay on Country’ that was shortlisted for the 2022 Indigenous Ceramic Award (and won South-East Australian Aboriginal Artist Prize of $5,000), hand-carved wooden sculptures from native cyprus and silk scarves dyed from natural materials found in Gariwerd.
 
For the first time, The Torch is presenting a satellite exhibition in Gallery 2 called In the Torchlight, which this year gives additional space and an expanded voice to In-Community women artists who are pursuing their cultural practice post-release. Set to become an annual event, this year’s presentation feature bodies of work by Heather Shawe, Melissa Bell, Sonia Singh, Veronica Hudson and Thelma Beeton.
 
All artworks are available for purchase from the gallery and online with 100% of the sales going to the artist. For participants, the creation and sale of their artworks is part of the rehabilitation process that helps build confidence, social capital, economic stability and pathways to reconnect with the community.
 
In 2022, The Torch sold and licensed over $1.1million dollars’ worth of artworks for First Nations men and women participating in The Torch’s Indigenous Arts in Prisons and community program. Over 600 Indigenous men and women are currently connected to The Torch program.
 
Income earned from the program provides participants with the ability to realise their potential and change their circumstances while in prison and when connecting back to the community. Participants are able to provide approved support to their families on the outside, increasing stability and helping to alleviate ongoing socio-economic disadvantage. Participants are also able to stand more confidently on their own two feet and avoid common pitfalls upon release from prison such as finding and maintaining affordable and safe accommodation. This decreases recidivism and opens new pathways towards education and employment with many positive intergenerational impacts.
 
The knowledge and experiences of Community Elders and those participating in the program continues to define the program’s design and delivery.  Employment of men and women from the program to work on all aspects, including going back into prison to support others, has been significant to the program’s ongoing success. The Torch now employs 23 permanent staff, 13 are First Nations men and women – six of whom have transitioned through the in-prison and in-community programs to now work at The Torch. 
 
“The Torch program was built upon the foundation of Indigenous knowledges, philosophies and
support processes that have been developed, taught and embraced for generations.
It shows that Indigenous led and delivered solutions to some of the ongoing issues caused by systemic over incarceration can be addressed successfully if driven by the Indigenous community,” said Kent Morris.

Michael Morgan’s – Passing on the Knowledge

Peter Thurlow is a Palawa/Gunnai Kurnai man who first started painting in 2018 when he was encouraged, through The Torch’s Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community program, to develop an artwork for the annual Confined exhibition.  No Refuge, one of Peter’s first paintings, was acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in 2019 from the Confined 10 exhibition.  It was painted at Port Phillip Prison and describes the plight of the Tasmanian thylacine which was hunted to extinction. The thylacine symbolises the devastating impact of British colonisation on Indigenous Palawa peoples, who faced overwhelming losses through conflict and introduced diseases.

Daniel Church was born on Darug Country and is currently pursuing his cultural arts practice on Gunaikurnai Country in Gippsland, Victoria.  His practice predominantly revolves around woodcarving and painting on canvas, which for him is about passing down songlines and cultural sharing. Following the art practices of his ancestors brings him peace and his connection to culture gives his life meaning and purpose.  Daniel’s family of carved and painted wooden pelicans is currently on display at the National Gallery of Victoria and a sculpture of his totem, the Brahminy Kite, won the Lechte Corporation Acquisitive Award in 2021.

Melissa Bell of Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta peoples joined The Torch program in 2016 and paints to maintain storylines and to connect to Country.  Her artwork has since been purchased by the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, the County Koori Court and Respect Victoria. Melissa has been working as a part-time Art Support Assistant at The Torch since March 2022 supporting the art team with artwork handling, sales and exhibitions. Melissa has recently been offered studio space at Pentridge Studios to further develop her arts practice

“Making art makes me feel connected to my land. To be an Aboriginal female artist, just to put down a beautiful picture from my Country – knowing I can put that down on a canvas and express my Country to other people is amazing,” says artist, Melissa Bell, Gunditjmara/Yorta Yorta people.

EVENT DETAILS: 

Dates:              Thursday 5 May – Sunday June 4 2023
Venue:             Glen Eira City Council Gallery,  Cnr Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads, Caulfield
Gallery:            Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm; Saturday and Sunday, 1pm to 5pm
Online:             thetorch.org.au/c14

Credits L to R: Emily Toulson-My Path Travelled and Future Paths Made 2022 
Middle: Kathleen Wightman-The Land and Aboriginal Country 2020, Tupun Miwi-Raukkan – The Tendi 2022   
Bottom: . Sonia-My Island Pride #2 (a) 2023, Sean Miller with Galibaay on Country, 2022

Art by Indigenous prisoners can forge links with culture and a future away from crime

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