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Narrative: Jenni Fagan on rehabilitation through art

Jenni Fagan

A new exhibition of artwork from prisons, secure hospitals, secure children’s homes and community justice services in Scotland is being curated by acclaimed author and poet Jenni Fagan.

Narrative, which takes place at Tramway in Glasgow, will feature up to 180 works entered from Scotland for the 2017 Koestler Awards – a charitable scheme that recognises artistic achievement in the criminal justice and secure sectors.

The exhibition, which takes place from 10 November to 22 December, will include paintings, sculpture, needlecraft, nail art, printmaking, woodcraft, audio, animation and writing. We spoke to Jenni to find out more about the project.

Tramway is one of Creative Scotland's Regularly Funded Organisations 2015-2018.

What is Narrative about, and how did you get involved with the project?

The Koestler Trust approached me to ask me if I would like to curate this year's art exhibition at the Tramway. I am passionate about extending art into all communities. I am also dedicated to the role of creativity in rehabilitation and narrative on both a personal and political level.

What are you hoping that Narrative’s creative participants will have taken away from the experience?

I would like it to help them take away a sense of their own identity as artists. I hope they will have been proud to have their work in such a great exhibition for six weeks. It might encourage newer artists to keep going and give more experienced artists some validation as to their talent. I hope it also gives participants something to discuss with their friends and family within the community.

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What do you hope that visitors to the exhibition will take away?

I hope that visitors respond to the exhibition by connecting with the extraordinary artwork. I hope it allows them to question narrative around each individual contributor and perhaps sees something more of each individual narrative.

In what ways can creative projects help to aid rehabilitation?

The goddess Shiva presides over both creation and destruction. There can be a positivity to taking destructive or difficult energy and putting it into a creative endeavour. There is a process of becoming that occurs through all creativity. There is also an opportunity for self definition, deeper understanding and connection to others. I believe creative projects are hugely important to rehabilitation in ways that we are probably only just beginning to understand.

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As a writer, how did you find the experience of working in visual art?

I spend a lot of time around art, I am influenced by art, I make art — so I was really excited to have the opportunity to try and curate a really brilliant exhibition.

Do you plan to do further work in prisons/community justice services in the future?

I have always worked with prison groups, community justice, young offenders, and charities that work with trafficked women, vulnerable children and lots of other groups as well. I sculpted a Scold's Bridle from steel years ago and engraved it with words sent to me by women in prison across the UK and US, including death row. It was a long project and I wrote an article on it, photographed the entire process and had it republished in a women in prison magazine and on a similar US website. I wanted to send the voices of this artwork back into the places it had come from. Each year I dedicate at least some time to offering a practical function within a community setting, I think it's really important to do so.

Narrative is at Tramway, 10 Nov–22 Dec 2017.

This article was published on 19 Oct 2017