On the Inside

A small act of love turns into something much bigger.


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You may know Tatiana von Furstenberg as the co-director of the all-girls boarding school film, Tanner Hall or perhaps you recognize her mother Diane’s extensive fashion line. What you may not know is that Tatiana has a heart of gold. In 2012, a 30 day pledge of one ‘act of love’ daily led her to an extremely tough subject; she dove in head first.

Given physical limitations, von Furstenberg focused on writing as a form of action and connected with Black and Pink, an LGBTQ prisoner advocacy organization, to match her with an incarcerated pen pal. For the first time she learned about the state of the U.S. prison system. She said, “I discovered that LGBTQ prisoners are least likely to have outside support. They feel forgotten and that nobody cares. It really resonated with me.”

Von Furstenberg then put a call for art in Black and Pink’s monthly newsletter and an expansive art show was born from LGBTQ artists who are currently incarcerated called, “On the Inside.” The impressive 300 plus piece exhibit crafted from basic supplies like scrap paper, ink tubes and dull pencils runs now through December 18 at the Abrons Art Center in New York City to raise awareness about the injustices in the U.S. prison system. Von Furstenberg hopes that visitors will be moved by the quality of art and most importantly, “see the artists’s talent and humanity and realize that we are all one. If you see their art and read their words, you have to not forget about them.”

                                                                                                                                       Melvin C. 


During the opening, I was immediately drawn into the stunning installation of not just framed art, but large mural backdrops emblazoned with artists’ quotes filling every available surface of the gallery space. One particular piece caught my eye and brought me and several other visitors back throughout the evening. It’s a pencil drawing of two women shackled in chains desperately trying to reach each other, unable to kiss. The artist is anonymous, although the feeling is crystal clear—so close yet so far away…

A truly unique aspect of the exhibit is that this artwork would otherwise remain hidden behind bars. “On the Inside” provides an opportunity for these artists’ stories to be told and for the public to interact with them. Despite the lack of cell phones in prison, a technology company named Frontline is making it possible for exhibit visitors to text the artist and voice their impressions. The messages will be printed and shared with the artists providing unprecedented interaction with the outside world. This connection also has the possibility to grow into a pen pal relationship.

According to an October 2015 survey of 1,118 LGBTQ prisoners by Black and Pink; an overwhelming majority of respondents had experienced solitary confinement with half of the group spending two or more years there. What’s more, 20% filled out the survey while in solitary. Prisoners reported guards sending them to solitary as a form of protection, but a short visit to the solitary sized room in the exhibit creates enough claustrophobia that it’s easy to see that being forced to spend hours, days and years on end in a similar space is more of a human rights violation rather than any form of safeguard.

If you go:

  • Look out for the code next to each piece of art and consider reaching out to the artist.
  • Enter the solitary confinement room to experience the size of the space that some prisoners experience for hours, days and even years on end.
  • Look for gorgeous Native American art, like life drawings of Hillary Clinton, Ellen Degeneres, Michael Jackson, Madonna, butch lesbians, fairies, warriors, nude drawings and everything in between.

A February 2016 report by Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project shows that the criminal system may be unfairly targeting and harming the queer community with approximately double the number of LGBTQ individuals in prison than in the general population and most report experiencing discrimination and violence once behind bars. People of color and transgender individuals are most at risk.

                                                                                                                                                      Simone L 


Four thousand works were collected in all and donations were made to the artists’ commissary accounts to acknowledge the time they dedicated to the project. What’s next after New York? Look out for a traveling exhibit on college campuses to reach the next generation of activists.

In case you missed it, check out Marcie Bianco’s Southwest of Salem film review in this month’s issue of Curve magazine about the San Antonio Four for more information about the injustices in the prison system particularly for LGBTQ individuals.

 

Find more info about the exhibition at www.abronartscenter.org

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