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Making Art in Prison: Survival and Resistance

Janie Paul

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Hat & Beard Press
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In Making Art in Prison: Survival and Resistance, Janie Paul
introduces readers to the culture and aesthetics of prison art
communities, and shares heart wrenching, poignant, and often
surprisingly humorous artists' narratives.

The United States is the most incarcerating nation in the world. More than
two million people are locked behind bars, where they endure the
degradation and violence of a dehumanizing system. But in prisons around
the country, incarcerated people have regained their dignity by
creating objects of beauty, meaning, and value. These powerful stories and images upend
the manufactured stereotypes of those living in prison, imparting a
real human dimension--a critical step in the movement to end mass

For 27 years, Paul has traveled throughout Michigan to meet artists
and select work for the project she co-founded: The Annual Exhibitions
of Artists in Michigan Prisons, an initiative of the Prison Creative
Arts Project at the University of Michigan. Pedagogical as well as
curatorial, the project has provided crucial validation for the artists.
Making Prison Art features over 200 images of their extraordinary work.

Delving deeply into the ways in which incarcerated artists create
meaning through their artistic practice, Paul explains how the making,
sharing, and formation of artistic friendships within prisons can
constitute acts of resistance against the violence and banality of
prison life. Most of the artists did not make art before coming to
prison. Their accomplishments show that art making need not be a
privilege of the few, but is rather a basic human need, and in these
circumstances, a necessary means of survival.

Making Art in Prison reveals--through the eyes of the artists
who have lived through it--what mass incarceration looks and feels like
in the United States. It reveals the ways in which they keep their
humanity intact; it invites us to reflect on our own humanity and the
problem of living in a country that incarcerates more of its population
than any other nation in the world. It also invites us to look closely
at the images and appreciate the richness of life and luminosity
emerging from the darkest corner of our country.