Arts & Culture

Art from the Imprisoned

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The Pollock Gallery of the Meadows School of the Arts hosts the sixth annual “The Arts of Oppression” exhibit and auction in collaboration with Dallas-based nonprofit Miles of Freedom from Sept. 11 through Oct. 31, 2021, in Suite 101 of Expressway Tower.

“The Arts of Oppression” contains over 180 works by currently or formerly incarcerated people and seeks “to provide holistic services for individuals, families and communities impacted by incarceration,” said Richard Miles, founder, president and CEO of Miles of Freedom. He founded Miles of Freedom after 15 years of wrongful incarceration.

“We filed for compensation 2 ½ years after I was fully exonerated,” Miles said. “It was with that compensation that I seeded the money for Miles of Freedom.”

Richard Miles, founder of Miles of Freedom, looking at poems by artists
Richard Miles, founder of Miles of Freedom, looking at poems by artists Photo credit: Simone Melvin

The exhibition, typically a one-day auction event, will span two months. This is in addition to a one-year incubator residency offered by the Pollock to “an artist or organization working in the art field on multidisciplinary, community collaborations,” said Victoria Winkelman, SMU Meadows School of the Arts media contact.

“For us, this is a way to provide Miles of Freedom much more support and have more time for people to get to know Miles of Freedom’s mission and vision,” said Sofia Bastidas Vivar, co-curator and Pollock Gallery director. “This is a way to tend to the needs of formerly or presently incarcerated people more and closely, and also to look at how we can advance the field of social justice in art.”

Collection of paintings and drawings in the curation
Collection of paintings and drawings in the curation Photo credit: Simone Melvin

Co-curator Aidan Ellis, SMU Curatorial Minds Lab student fellow, will work alongside Miles of Freedom through June 15, 2022, to develop multidisciplinary programming intersecting art and human rights.

“Just being able to host this show this year personifies the perseverance of what our nation has gone through these past couple of years,” Miles said. “I think that the fact that we’re able to put on this display reflects the character of men and women who are currently transitioning through prison.”

Bastidas and Ellis showcased drawings, poetry, textile-based art and paintings from the Darkwood Gallery in San Angelo, Texas. The exhibition also included the very envelopes in which many pieces of art were delivered.

Collection of the envelopes in which the art was sent.
Collection of the envelopes in which the art was sent. Photo credit: Simone Melvin

“From the first call with Darkwood Gallery’s founder and director Alma Rios, it became apparent that any presentation of the pieces that did not consider the unique challenges of shipping and collecting them would be an incomplete one,” Ellis said. “Because the majority of artists featured in the show are currently incarcerated, they have sent their work to Alma in envelopes adorned with stamps and pleas of “DO NOT BEND.” Over the years, Alma has kept these pieces in their original envelopes. The envelope installation is a tribute to her work and the artists’ work – it also encourages the viewers to consider how mass incarceration, access and equity frame the works exhibited.”

Artist Arthur Anguiano joined Miles of Freedom in 2017 after six years of imprisonment. One of his drawings, based on a Vietnam War book he saw in prison, started bidding at $400. Auctions went live on Sept. 11 at https://www.32auctions.com/theartsofoppression and closes Oct. 30, 2021. Proceeds will benefit featured artists and Miles of Freedom.

“I just wanted to capture the feeling, and of course, some of those feelings in the pictures helped me capture some of my reality at the time,” Anguiano said. “You can see the sentimental pain and feeling and death. When I was in, I lost my ex-wife, so some of this stuff [in the drawing] correlates to my life.”

The exhibit is a part of Healing Pieces: Offerings of Art, Expression and Nature, an engagement project led by Meadows’ Ignite/Arts Dallas program. Miles of Freedom will host open office hours at the Pollock throughout the year, on Thursdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Sofia and I wanted to showcase and center the artists’ work; our work – the presentation, organization, and additional materials – are intended to supplement and guide the viewer experience,” Ellis said. “We wanted the exhibit to encourage visitors and potential buyers to critically engage with the works both within the context of artistic production writ large and, especially, the historical and contemporary contexts of mass incarceration in Texas.”

The gallery will be open 2-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or by appointment during the exhibition. Parking and admission are free. For more information, call 214-768-4439 or visit https://pollockgallery.art.

“For people doing time, we learn to do time and ameliorate ourselves with new beginnings and new expressions and sometimes newfound talents,” Anguiano said. “I’m grateful that we’re able just to get the word out that there’s a struggle, and the struggle continues – there are lives that express themselves in different ways, whether it be in prison or out of prison. I think a lot of this work shows that.”

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