PAPER TRAILS Art exhibition to give the public a glimpse into the lives of prisoners

A unique art exhibit features local artists and their portrayals of Arkansas prisoners in an effort to shed light on the experiences of those living behind bars.

The prison portrait project will be on view from 6-9 p.m. Friday at The New Deal Gallery, 2003 S. Louisiana St., Little Rock. On Saturday, the gallery will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. for a tour followed by a storytelling and Q&A session with people formerly incarcerated in Arkansas.

The exhibit, featuring works by 22 artists from 15 subjects, is presented by Compassion Works for All, the Little Rock nonprofit that provides inmates with mindfulness, recovery, meditation and art programs as well as other resources on spirituality, rehabilitation and education. This is the organisation’s second portrait project, following that of 2019. The portraits will be on sale, with proceeds going to artists and Compassion Works for All programs.

“The bottom line is that we put the spotlight on those incarcerated and try to remind people that they are human beings,” says Cory Jones, executive director of Compassion Works for All.

Zina Al-Shukri is a Little Rock artist who teaches an art class through Compassion Works for All for men and women at Pulaski County Jail. Like many others in the project, she created her portrait, which was done using nupastel and gesso on paper, from a photograph provided by her subject.

“I have a photo of his photo ID,” she said. “I sat with the paint for a while…and the word that kept coming back to me was ‘freedom’. We all want to feel free, and that comes through in the picture.”

It’s a project that “makes us more human and gives us a chance to connect with each other on this kind of playground,” she adds.

Ricky Sikes, an art professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a portrait painter, contacted the group when he heard about the project.

“They said they wanted to start a conversation about hyper-incarceration, healing and compassion and that’s why I wanted to participate,” says Sikes, whose work has been created with acrylic and ink. ‘oil on panel. “I appreciated that because I had the freedom to not just paint a vanilla portrait. After speaking with the group, he was encouraged to be an artist in this project.”

See for details.

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About Debra D. Johnson

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