The art exhibition: getting a second chance in life

By The Editorial Board 15 March 2023, 6:00AM

Life is not easy at the Tanumalala Prison for citizens who broke the law and have been incarcerated for many months or years.

Separated from their families and loved ones, prisoners are expected by societal norms to pay for their crimes by being confined to their prison walls, and undertake various forms of labour as restitution for their crimes. 

But the introduction of a prison arts program at Tanumalala is giving inmates a new lease of life, following its launching in August last year. Guests who travelled to the prison facility for the official launching last year were in awe of the artwork, which the prisoners took on after undergoing training run by a local artist.

Seven months later and the country’s first ever prison inmates' art exhibition was staged at the Taumeasina Island Resort last Friday. Artwork that the inmates painted as part of the prison arts program were on display and auctioned, with 40 per cent of the proceeds going back to the prison artists.

Police Commissioner Auapa'au Logoitino Filipo, who asked that the inmate artists receive 40 per cent of the income generated from the auction of their art pieces, was elated with the arrangement.

"We also offer other ways for the prisoners to make money that they can use when they are released, like earning 40 per cent of what money earned from crops they grow," he said. "These are great for them, to keep them motivated to become better citizens." 

Called the Second Chance Art Exhibition & Auction, it was held thanks to the support of the Ministry of Police Prisons and Corrections Services, the British High Commission, Samoa Stationery and Books (SSAB) Ltd, and the Senior Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson.

We commend the Ministry, the British High Commission and the SSAB for enabling the inmates to realise their dreams – the art exhibition and auction last Friday evening confirmed to the prisoners that there is life outside their prison walls, and if they use their talents well they can reap the benefits.

Local artist Lalovai Peseta, the co-owner of Manumea Arts Studio, confirmed in an interview with this newspaper that he ran an eight-week painting course for the inmates last year which enabled them to learn the basics in painting.

"I was a facilitator and I introduced my monochromatic style of painting to them and taught them about painting, also looking at visual art as a medicine for their minds while they are behind bars," he said.

"Art is a language that was there before written languages and photographs. It is a vital part of our survival."

Mr. Peseta is correct – in that art while being a language is also a critical part of our survival – and it showed in how quickly the local inmates were able to express themselves freely with the multiple strokes of their brushes.

Commissioner Auapa'au told the Samoa Observer last Friday evening that he is a big believer in prisoners’ rehabilitation programs.

"I am in full support of the rehabilitation programs for the prisoners. It is the only way they [prisoners] can rebuild their lives to a better place after they live out the remaining time of their sentences," he said.

"We are all human beings. Everyone makes a mistake and there is always hope that we can help where we can to support the ones who need it the most."

We believe the introduction of the prison arts program at Tanumalala last year is a game-changer, as studies from around the world on the use of art therapy in prisons, showed that it can assist those struggling from the loss of self esteem and confidence and keep them motivated while improving their social and life skills.

An American cultural arts mentoring program called The Write of Your Life describes the benefits of utilising art therapy in prisons succinctly: “As they create art with their own hands, they reestablish their worth and regain a sense of purpose.  

“Before an inmate can even discuss a parole date with a parole board, there is a ton of inner-work to do, but it starts with learning how to express themselves in a new way. It starts with art.”

We can already see that happening with the auctioning of the first art pieces last Friday evening at the exhibition. The inmates will only see the gesture as them being given a second chance in life. Everyone deserves a second chance in life. 

By The Editorial Board 15 March 2023, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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