How do you give a voice to a population that is largely disconnected from society? In the new exhibit On The Inside on view now at Craft Contemporary, artwork created by LGBTQ+ people serving time behind bars aim to change how the public views incarcerated citizens and forces viewers to confront their understanding of mass incarceration in America.
Organized by Tatiana von Furstenberg, daughter of legendary fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, On The Inside showcases more than 100 drawings by current inmates that depict everything from intimate couples and historical figures to self-portraits of inmates envisioning themselves outside of prison. The exhibit is the final piece in von Furstenberg’s Black and Pink initiative, a prisoners’ advocacy program that began several years ago when von Furstenberg decided to do a good deed every day to show gratitude (despite suffering from an illness that impairs her own mobility). Originally a pen pal program, Black and Pink expanded to include a monthly publication filled with stories, poems and essays penned by inmates. According to Los Angeles Magazine, when Black and Pink put out a call for inmates to submit artwork, more than 4,000 submissions were received over four years.
Little information is given about the artists showcased in On The Inside and there are no details about why they are incarcerated, though the pieces do include the first names and many quotes from letters written in correspondence between von Furstenberg and featured artists. Comprised largely of black and white sketches and shaded drawings that are not for sale, the inmates did not receive special art supplies to create their work, instead relying on the items readily available to prisoners like the ink tubes of ballpoint ink pens, Kool-Aid and dull pencils.
The exhibit aims to draw attention to the issue of mass incarceration: the United States leads the world in incarceration rates, with a 2018 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimating that more than 2 million adults in America are serving time. It also provides LGBTQ+ inmates the opportunity to connect with those on the outside.They’re often more likely to suffer from sexual assault inflicted by fellow prisoners, and are more prone to physical abuse at the hands of corrections officers than their heterosexual peers. They are also less likely to receive emotional and financial support from loved ones due to their gender identity or sexual orientation, which is why von Furstenberg donated money to the commissaries of the featured artists, and encourages viewers of the exhibit to participate in the pen pal program or text inmates using a transcription service.
On The Inside is on view at Craft Contemporary, on Wilshire Boulevard, until September 8. It’s not in the DTLA neighborhood, but trust us, it’s worth the short drive.
We’re continually inspired by the creative energy of Downtown Los Angeles. For local recommendations—and to hear from the diverse individuals who make DTLA what it is today—head to our Meet You Downtown blog.