Incarcerated artists to show their work at Ann Arbor Art Fair

Art Fair returns to Ann Arbor July 21-23
by Meredith Bruckner
We Bear by Parker Ayers

ANN ARBOR – Several incarcerated artists from the United Kingdom as well as artists from the University of Michigan Prison Creative Arts Project will present their work at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.

The exhibit, titled “We Bear,” will be on display July 21-23.

In total, 31 artists who were in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic in prisons in the U.S. and U.K. created artwork exploring their experiences -- thirteen of whom are in Michigan prisons.

Each artist was invited to participate by artist Faye Claridge, who encouraged them to create new artworks inspired by the Warwickshire symbol of the chained bear.In the height of the pandemic, inmates spent 23 hours a day in their cells in isolation from others and with no access to materials or education spaces, according to a U-M release. Visits were also restricted.

Coventry Biennial. (The Herbert Art Gallery Museum)

“The artworks were made remotely in the most difficult of circumstances and powerfully communicate a range of experiences of being incarcerated,” Claridge said in a release.

The show initially debuted in the U.K. as a one-off event with Coventry Biennial and more than 50,000 visitors attended the event. It was allowed to travel to Michigan by Arts Council England after an outpouring of audience engagement and feedback. We Bear US at the Ann Arbor Art Fair will be the international debut of the show.

“It can be hard to imagine now, as major events like the Ann Arbor Art Fairs resume their pre-pandemic schedules, the incredible isolation in which the artists were working,” PCAP associate director Vanessa Mayesky said in a statement. “We Bear created an opportunity for connection during COVID outbreak lockdowns. Incarcerated people were separated from their loved ones and the outside world more than ever before.

What struck me when I reviewed photos of the work was the variety in artists’ responses. No one piece is like another. One thing common to all is the artists’ thoughtful consideration of the subject. There is no slapdash response. These are each well-thought-out pieces.”

“I hope this can give a glimpse into the creative minds and talent that reside in prisons and impart some insight into the effects of mass incarceration on our populations,” Michigan artist Daryl Rattew said in a statement.

Other Michigan-based artists as part of the PCAP group include:

  • Parker Ayers
  • Susan Brown
  • John Gaik IV
  • Samuel Hendley
  • Jacob Mann
  • Destrey McCoy
  • Duane Montney
  • Theo Moss
  • Alvin Smith
  • Serge Tkachenko
  • Amber Wilson
  • Andy Wynkoop

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Release Date: 06/16/2022
Tags: Prison Creative Arts Project