Damian Moss, Boom Gate Gallery curator
The Boom Gate Gallery is a great opportunity for inmates to display and sell their art.Without the gallery, there's no real outlet for the public to see inmate art.
The art in the gallery, I think is of a really, really high standard and we ensure that by not just displaying any art that we come across within the jail. So we'll build a relationship with an inmate. We'll keep building up these skills, keep encouraging them. And when we finally see a piece we think is at the level the gallery needs, we'll accept that from them and hang it.
Indigenous inmates will paint their own language, their own stories, the ones they've heard throughout their life or ones they've been told in jail.
When I first started, it was after my mother sat down and had a talk to me about her background and who my grandfather was, that he was a full blood and that she was a half blood Wiradjuri woman. And she started telling me stories and that I could paint those stories and I like to try and portray them so other people can see them and can look into it and have an understanding of my background and where my family has come from.
I paint mainly animals that are related to the totems of where I come from.
Something changed in me where I just wanted to just do full of my own traditional way.
I create the story as I'm painting. My life is patterns and love works with everyone woven together. So like any colony.
And colony works together to build the place where they live and a community works together with everyone doing their bit.
In my younger days, my family working relentlessly our language, so I don't know our language. They didn't really have some culture really until I come to jail.
I was more or less learned from different mentors that come in, you know, and talk to me about it.
Since I've learned it in Junee, you know, it's been really good for me because it gave me the idea of what I can paint now I can paint it.
Non-Indigenous inmates might paint scenes of places they'd rather be. So you find inmates would paint landscapes of places that they have experienced personally or places they'd like to be once they get out of jail.
I suppose I do quite a lot of landscapes. Done a few paintings of being in jail and usually looking out on the balcony over here you can see a decent view of the city, and I've used that a couple of times in pictures with the old brick wall of Long Bay in the foreground.
And I was supposed to be a giraffe in Taronga Zoo, and the view that the giraffe has of the cityscape. But as much as the view is nice, the giraffe is on a step behind a big brick wall like where...
I get most of my inspiration is from nature because I'm very, very much an outdoors person sitting by campfire and just enjoying the atmosphere of the bush overnight.
This one has got the children like standing in the corner in the middle of that kind of situation.
I like to see the looks on people's faces as well when they see the paintings and then so I can talk about those paintings myself. I want to get their impressions of what they see in the painting. And the stories they tell are different to other people's stories, and the language they have to tell them is also different to other people's language, but they get the story out there in a very unique way.
Okay. Is God an alien? Who is God? Aliens are thinking to themselves, saying, okay, if they've got church down in earth, why can't we have a church? So that's why they that's why the alien ship is beaming the church up through the pretty little lights. And that as well.
I remember one inmate I had in a very postmodernist way used to reference the old masters, but put them in the jail context. That is to say, you know, make some reference to jail. And that is what sort of works well in the galleries.
I thought, oh, well, fingerprints is been in prison, you put your fingerprints down all the time. So they started making these paintings completely out of fingerprints.
I try and use more contemporary colours because I'm not a I am not a traditional artist as such. I like to try and twist it a little bit and put my own my own curve and my own story to it and using my own colours, too. So it represents me and what I'm thinking of.
Dr Elizabeth Day
The Boom Gate Gallery sells what could be called outsider art. Most of the inmates have not had any art training at all. Considering that the standard that we have here is quite spectacular. They are very curious and resourceful people.
It has a unique quality to it, but it is so original and that's impressive. Nobody that went to art school would ever have thought of creating some of the stuff. You can find very significant pieces of artwork created of not very much at all.
So they'll run out of materials quite quickly, canvas, paint, board very quickly. And if they're really determined, they'll just keep on going. They won't use that as a block to stop making and creating, and they'll use anything they could get their hands on.
A few of my paintings are on upcycled materials like old notice boards, and it's a word that of saying the pipe and then and painted on. I think it stands back into ancestors. They used what they had. They used the land. So I try to incorporate that in it too.
The cardboard comes from the our meal trays. They separate the food trays in layers with this cardboard in between the layers. So at the end of each meal time I can get the cardboard to paint on it.
Very, very, very hard for a lot of the inmates to be able to verbalise how they are feeling to, to be able to engage and express their emotions. And art is an opportunity for us to start exploring that in a safe environment without feeling that difficulty disclosing information without judgment, without fear of reprisal, without fear of shame or guilt. And it's just an opportunity for them to communicate their feelings.
Dr Elizabeth Day
They are often very talented, but they have never kept that side of themselves. Actually, I think that there's the vast untapped potential in working creatively.
I'd recommend it to anyone that’s having a hard time and feels they are not worth much or, you know, feeling down and out. But painting as I feel, you find that your feelings change and you get better and you feel better about yourself too. And the feeling of accomplishment when you finish doing it makes me feel good inside, definitely. And I get a lot out of it. It helps me to build my confidence. I enjoy it.
Nathan and Adrian
It's changed me a lot. I’m a lot less [?]
I’ve got a lot of self-harm history in the past, cutting my wrists and stuff like that. And since I started art, I haven’t done it once. I’m 43 years old and I don’t want to come back.
I don't want this anymore. Art is a way out.
Dr Elizabeth Day
I frequently was sent inmates from the psychologist, often in a state of being suicidal, and they would come to art, and they would start socialising with other inmates and become very engrossed in what they were making. They develop a culture within the jail of artmaking. It's a very generative thing to have in corrections.
Being able to reconnect with the art inside prison basically saved my life and it gave me an option to redeem myself. I was able to sell my paintings and support myself through four years of prison when my family didn't have to pay for anything, which was just the way I could let them know that I wasn't worthless.
When, you know, they've done an artwork that they're proud of, it's hung up in a gallery for all to see and then to receive, you know, money from it. It's definitely teaching them pro-social behaviors. I know there's been a few positive stories of offenders who have been released from custody that are now, you know, really well known Aboriginal artists especially.
It wasn't really about selling work, it was about showing people what I'd done with my time and yeah, I was kind of proud of that. So, you know, it's another one of those things where you are taking something negative and turn it into a positive.
And that was probably the biggest lesson I learned in prison, is that you can use negative energy. We just have to think and think about it and put it to good use because it's very powerful.
The one inmate I worked with who was actually a chronic self-harm inmate when he was doing artwork and he was actually very talented. It really you can see the calmness that came over him.
Yeah. And this particular inmate who is a quite high recidivism rate has not been in custody since. So I think the art really helped him.
We get a whole range of visitors into the gallery. Everybody from family members of inmates that are coming on weekends to visit them. A lot of medical staff, people from the legal fraternity, Legal Aid solicitors coming in regularly. We also have a lot of overseas visitors.
I've been following the Boom Gate Gallery ever since I've been with the department, and I frequently go in to see what is there. I've got quite a collection of inmate art at home.
People come to my house and are fascinated by the paintings. It's reasonably priced and top quality work, so go no further.
If they are really determined nothing stops them. And often they're the inmates that create completely unique art, and art you wouldn't find anywhere else but in a Boom Gate Gallery.