An exhibit that features writing, art, music and dramatic work from inmates of the Oakhill Correctional Institution will be available at the Madison Public Library’s Central Branch this Thursday at 6 p.m.
The exhibit, titled “Artists in Absentia,” was produced in collaboration with the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project, a UW-Madison initiative that allows graduate students and faculty to teach a variety of humanities classes at the Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon.
Elizabeth Scheer, a UW-Madison graduate student who co-teaches a visual art class through the project, said she believes the exhibit will help participants understand inmates are three-dimensional people who cannot solely be defined by their criminal labels.
“I hope the exhibit will help the public see the artist-inmates as larger than the circumstances that led to their incarceration,” Scheer said. “These men have rich personal histories, close ties to friends and families and insights into the world that will make you cry and will make you laugh.”
In addition to the exhibit’s showcase of inmate-produced artwork, local filmmaker Marc Kornblatt also put together a web series of the artists and a documentary detailing the exhibit’s creation. This film gives another perspective on the exhibit, one that provides personal stories about the people behind the art.
“The documentary is great because it allows visitors to see the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project as something that involves real people,” Scheer said. “As supplement to the still images, audio and text, the film brings the experience of the men to life in a way that makes the project feel all the more powerful and urgent.”
“Artists in Absentia” provides both the inmates of the Oakhill Correctional Institution and the exhibit’s viewers the unique opportunity to experience the oft-forgotten humanity of those in the criminal justice system, according to Scheer.
“I believe the exhibit will help people see that just like us, the inmates are so much more than the worst thing we have ever done.”