The works currently hanging on the wall of SMU’s Pollock Gallery run the gamut. There’s gentle countryside landscapes, poems and portraits. A chaotic depiction of the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January sits next to drawings exploring 9/11 and COVID-19.
The themes are varied, but one thing ties them all together: prison.
Every artist featured in “The Arts of Oppression,” opening Sept. 11, is or has been incarcerated. The show was produced by Miles of Freedom, a Dallas nonprofit that provides support and re-entry services to formerly incarcerated people and their families.
Founder and president Richard Miles said the gallery show, now in its fifth year, is meant to challenge the public’s perception of incarcerated people.
“One of the jobs that I had while I was incarcerated was in the craft shop,” Miles said. “I noticed that was the only space where men saw the value of their hands.”
Miles was wrongfully convicted of murder and attempted murder when he was 19 years old. He spent 15 years in prison before finally being exonerated and released in 2009.
“Sometimes, when we’re in oppressed situations, we need to find vents. Art is a vent,” Miles said. “If we can hone into that, then the oppressive state that we’re in doesn’t weigh on us as much.”
Arthur Anguiano has always been tapped into his creative side. He used to work as a sketch artist for commercial events, but he says his time in prison helped him reconnect with his artistry.
“[Prison] makes you reflect upon yourself,” he said. “What is the purpose of my life? God gave me a heart of expression. Let me get back to that.”
Now, Anguiano uses pen and pencil to create hyper-realistic, collage-like, emotional scenes.
“It is an expression of our inner feelings and inner convictions and our goals and aspirations,” Anguiano said. “To express to others and say, ‘Look, I’m also a part of your plight too.’”
Hyper-realistic pen drawings like Anguiano’s are reminiscent of paños, a classic prison art style using pieces of fabric. Pollock Gallery director Sofia Bastidas says there are several included in the show.
The gallery’s collaboration with Miles of Freedom includes a year-long residency where the nonprofit will work with the gallery to create even more programming. Bastidas hopes it will spur meaningful dialogue around art, human rights and the criminal justice system.
“This show is just the first step,” Bastidas said. “With time, we could dig deeper into the paños and different mediums to study them and see what people are creating in other parts of the country to connect and understand the value of what we have here.”
More than 180 works will also be auctioned off to benefit the artists and Miles of Freedom. The online-only auction goes lives Sept. 11 at 32auctions.com/theartsofoppression. The show runs through Oct. 30.
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