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Stories of hope

Faith and Hope through Art

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Last month’s Art from Inside exhibition in Hobart was spectacular! Over 40 artists were featured in the exhibition, with 115 pieces of art on display, ranging from drawings and paintings to sculptures and jewellery. 

I have volunteered with Prison Fellowship for the last eight years, running the Art from Inside program for inmates in one of the Tasmanian prisons. In each session we aim to offer a space that allows the participants to embark on a journey of faith, self discovery, and an adventure into art-making. We want participants to come out of the sessions feeling encouraged in their faith journey and feeling they have accomplished something of worth.  

Photo: Campbell Ship

For the last four years, I have been joined by Karin, who, like me, has recently qualified as an art therapist. Karin is very skilled at ceramics and applied art, while I have a love for painting and drawing. Together we bring our professional learnings and personal art-making skills to the art group to provide a safe environment for all of us to learn, explore, and grow. As we have collaborated to provide the artists in prison with a program that they can all engage in, we have learnt from each other and increased our art-making skill base. 

We are aware that many of the participants in our art group have never had the opportunity to engage in art making before, whilst others are more accomplished. Regardless of our skill levels, we are all, at times, frustrated by our ark-making efforts. So, at the beginning of each session, we take the time to explain that self-criticism is stifling and unhelpful, and instead we encourage each other towards self-reflection, and to push through those feelings of inadequacy that we all experience. In this way we can all celebrate our achievements and learning together. 

We also celebrate our achievements by holding awards ceremonies in the prison each year. We invite all the artists who have been involved, as well as those who helped put the exhibition together. This year the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Sarah Bolt, who opened the exhibition, attended the awards ceremonies, spoke to the artists, and presented the awards. All the artists who participated in the exhibition are also presented with a laminated certificate with their name on it so they have the option of using it in their portfolio after their release.  

We have recently started filming the public exhibition opening event so that we can show it to the artists at the awards ceremony. The delight and celebration of the artists as they view their own and their fellow artist’s work make these ceremonies so joyful that we decided we will do the same each year.

Lamp of Hope

Karin and I are both passionate about the idea of a shared humanity; the truth that we are all valued equally in the sight of God, with no one person greater than another.  Each year, we use the  theme for the Art From Inside program, to assist us in sharing this value of equality with the artists. Some of our recent themes include “Unfailing Love”, “Rejected/Selected”, “Grace”, “Peace”, and this year’s theme of “Hope”. We also invite the community at large to experience the themes through installations at the Art From Inside exhibitions, where they can participate in the artwork and learn more about the theme. This year’s installation, “Lamp of Hope”, invited artists and those attending the exhibition to write their hopes and dreams on tissue paper, and weave each piece of paper through the bamboo slats of the 2-metre high lamp.

Origami Heart Cross

Another year we invited artists/people to write their prayer of forgiveness on a square of coloured paper and to fold this into an origami heart that was then pinned to a cross.  

Karin and I also run a church community art group we call Art Connect, which we run each fortnight at C3 Church, Hobart. This program offers inmates an opportunity to continue their art-making journey after their release from prison, and also provides them with a great opportunity to connect with other artists from the wider community. The Art Connect group members have volunteered tirelessly, and roped in their friends as well, to assist us make the Art From Inside exhibition happen each year. 

I love the time I get to spend with the artists in and outside the prison as a volunteer for Prison Fellowship. I am always learning, and I am challenged to share my faith in a way that is meaningful through artistic expression. God speaks to us through His creativity, and as we engage in creativity ourselves it seems He teaches us so much about both Himself and us.  It is this joy of art making and seeking that I want to pass on.

-Diane Reynoldson, Prison Fellowship Volunteer and Art From Inside exhibition curator 2021

Exhibition photos: Campbell Ship

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