Struggle and Catharsis: Art in Women's Prisons


Research Abstract
Struggle and Catharsis: Art in Women's Prisons

The arts produced within women's prisons offer a look at creativity from a particular viewpoint that is outside the usual structure of art markets and traditional legitimizing art structures (Peterson 1976, 10-11). Creative work in a nonvoluntary context presents unique delineations, descriptions, and/or transformations of meaning. The personal relations inside the prison institution can be facilitators or inhibitors of creativity for women on the inside.

Prison is not supposed to be a place for pleasure. Indeed, the road to rehabilitation is often colored by strict administrative control of prisoners, accompanied by the assumed need to punish. The quality of relationships in the production of artwork in a prison context has an enormous bearing on the success of the enterprise in terms of the personal satisfaction gained by the inmate. Where there is a highly competitive ethos, the work becomes oppressive; where there is room for individual time taking and personal exploration, there is a clear sense of maintenance of personal autonomy and room for creative expression.

The idea of struggle and artistic catharsis is intriguing. The struggle to maintain and define self, despite varied external modes of oppression, is one that requires, if not applause, recognition. The data presented here represent participant observation of two women's prisons in Australia. In these case studies it is clear that prison administrators are interested in addressing particular characteristics of women's incarceral culture.

An examination of the creative output of women who are incarcerated offers a fresh way to reexamine the nature of the artistic enterprise. The research described here illuminates the struggle to be engaged in creative work in a nonvoluntary environment. Engagement with materials can be both therapeutic and cathartic and can facilitate women prisoners' quests to maintain and define self, despite social and legal structures designed to discredit and stigmatize. (p. 72, 79)

Struggle: Grief, Loss and Low Self-Esteem.
Catharsis through Art.
References [bibliography].


Gibbons, Jacqueline A.
December, 1996