Abstract art by prisoners to form new exhibition

Arts worker Lee Cutter with a sculpture called Tea at Three by an offender at HMP Saughton. Picture: Greg Macvean
Arts worker Lee Cutter with a sculpture called Tea at Three by an offender at HMP Saughton. Picture: Greg Macvean
Have your say

sculptures and abstract paintings created by prisoners from HMP Edinburgh are set to go on display as part of a new exhibition.

More than 150 artistic works by offenders from across Scotland will be showcased in “183 More Sleeps” at Summerhall.

Summerhall is dedicated to exploring the transformative power of art

Holly Knox Yeoman

The display, which runs at the Southside venue until the end of the month, features paintings and sculptures selected from more than 1000 entries submitted to the Koestler Trust by inmates.

Everything from nail art to soap carvings is covered in the eclectic mix of artworks, which were chosen by artist Ruth Ewan.

The scheme, which has been running for more than 50 years, aims to reward artistic achievement in the penal and secure sectors.

Among the creations by Edinburgh offenders are A Sharp Exit, which depicts a prisoner within a green emergency exit sign, and an abstract sculpture entitled Tea at Three, which won the gold award for sculpture.

Ms Ewan, who studied at Edinburgh College of Art, said: “There are always works from Scotland which stand out, some because of their more obvious cultural reference points, but mainly because of what they depict; the Scottish landscape, social realities or a sense of dry wit, evident across the broad range of visual and written work.” She said the exhibition allowed prisoners’ “voices to be heard”.

The display at Summerhall has been named after one of the artworks featured in the event; 183 More Sleeps is a bright cushion created by a prisoner at HMP Greenock, symbolising how long they have left of their sentence.

Summerhall exhibitions manager Holly Knox Yeoman said: “Summerhall is dedicated to exploring the transformative power of art and is excited to be providing a platform for imaginative and thought-provoking works by ex-offenders, secure patients and detainees across Scotland.”

The Koestler Trust received 8509 entries across the UK for this year’s awards, with a record number of entries from Scotland. Scottish submissions have dramatically risen in recent years – hiking from 287 in 2009 to 1788 in 2015.

The free exhibition, which opens at Summerhall today and runs until November 29, is part of The Koestler Trust’s Freedom in Expression festival. In addition to the awards, the festival includes a programme of events, exhibitions, tours, outreach visits and feedback for the exhibited artists.

James King, head of offender learning at the Scottish Prison Service, said: “Our success in progressing arts in custody with our learning partners and Koestler Trust has been key to stimulating engagement and motivating formerly reluctant learners to build confidence and self-belief.”

The project has been backed by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, with support from the Robertson Trust and the Souter Charitable Trust.