Beauty on the inside comes out

By Dionne Christian

Inmates' exhibits from Inside Out shows.
Inmates' exhibits from Inside Out shows.

One of the most popular exhibitions at the Mairangi Arts Centre, on Auckland's North Shore, is now on.

Inside Out 7 features paintings, ceramics and carvings produced by inmates at Northern Region Corrections, known as Ngawha Prison, who take part in arts and whakairo (carving) programmes.

Now in its seventh year, the exhibition draws up to 5000 visitors who want to see how art is used as part of the rehabilitation and vocational programmes in our prisons, as well as some stunning original work. The pieces are sold to raise money for charities. This year, Women's Refuge is the beneficiary.

Lena Kovac, Mairangi Arts Centre general manager, says most gallery visitors are overwhelmingly positive and astounded by the talent. Inside Out aims to demonstrate skill and the potential prison inmates may not have had the opportunity to explore and develop.

The exhibition is supported by the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board, chaired by Julia Parfitt, who first visited Auckland Prison in 2008 to see the artwork and carvings made by prisoners.

She grew up on the North Shore and recalls her classmates included the children of prison staff. "They were there; we were here and that was the attitude," she says.

"I always felt to lock criminals behind bars and simply make them pay is contrary to the belief that people can be rehabilitated. I'm not saying some people haven't committed some very serious crimes - and, for that, there needs to be a consequence - but simply incarcerating people comes at a huge cost which doesn't recognise the potential to make a more positive contribution.

Inmates' exhibits from Inside Out shows.
Inmates' exhibits from Inside Out shows.

"People commit a crime; they do the time, but what sort of people do we want them be when they leave prison? We should work together to build better futures for all in our community."

Parfitt's visit has inspired a range of beautification projects on the Hibiscus Coast.

These include carvings for the North Shore District Court, a donation of artworks to the Auckland Starship Children's Hospital, six carved seats in Orewa's Te Ara Tahuna walkway/cycleway, waharoa at Northcross Intermediate (2009) and Whangaparoa College (2014) and two carving projects at Albany Junior High.

The local board gives money toward Inside Out. In 2014, it received the Arts Access Prison Arts Community Award for its outstanding contribution in working with the Department of Corrections to use arts to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners.

Exhibition

What: Inside Out 7
Where and when: Mairangi Arts Centre, 20 Hastings Rd;
until May 8.

- Weekend magazine

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