Artwork from prisons gives glimpse into lives of indigenous incarcerated people: ‘we’re still human’

After almost two years of waiting, a team at the University of British Columbia (UBC) has received hundreds of pieces of artwork, created by individuals incarcerated in federal prisons across “B.C.” and the “Yukon.” From paintings to poetry, each piece of art tells a story, and many were created by Indigenous artists.

Now, the doors are open at a gallery in the Downtown Eastside of “Vancouver” that’s showcasing these works of art.

Starting in 2020, 756 art and reciprocity kits were distributed to various institutions for the ART & Justice project, led by UBC school of nursing professor Dr. Helen Brown and interdisciplinary studies PhD candidate Kelsey Timler. The project was guided by Indigenous Elders and previously incarcerated activists, and it focused primarily on Indigenous people and people living with mental illness. Hundreds of sketches, paintings, carvings, poetry and more were sent back. 

Read more: Artwork from prisons gives glimpse into lives of indigenous incarcerated people: ‘we’re still human’

“There were really beautiful pieces, and words, and songs and stuff like that, that were expressed,” said Peter Fraser, who is of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Snuneymuxw, Hesquiaht and Ehattesaht nations. Fraser is an advisor to the project as an Indigenous person who has been incarcerated. 

“There were some very hopeful ones, some very beautiful expressions, some very talented people that really dove into the process and were able to share some really beautiful pieces.”

“I’ve been learning to process through art. [I want people to know that] a strong, resilient, unbroken woman created this. Many times throughout this journey I’ve been almost broken. But I’ve never been broken,” said one artist in a quote provided by UBC. 

While not all art in this project was created by Indigenous people, a large portion of it was. In an interview with IndigiNews, Peter spoke to the disproportionate number of Indigenous people incarcerated in Canada.