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Making Art in Prison: Survival and Resistance

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 incarceration.  

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. 

8.75 x 1.15 x 11.7 inches. 336 pages.

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