Remember Me

by Rosie Worster, Director of Programmes at The Fair Justice Initiative

Adwoa, Abena, Agnes, Ama A, Mary, Lamisi, Ama Y, Esther, Akosua, Salamatu, Zelia and Talata
Portraits by Francis Kokoroko for The Fair Justice Initiative’s “Remember Me” project

Nsawam Medium Security Prison is the largest in Ghana, located not far outside the capital of Accra. It is a place associated with utmost shame, particularly for the eighty or so women held in the female section. Crime is thought dirty, ungodly, unfeminine. Many of the detainees hide the fact of their incarceration from their families, deliberately isolating themselves to avoid that rejection. Others maintain a desperate line of contact with relatives who as the years pass change their numbers, visit less frequently, or forget them altogether.

It’s difficult to link this to the series of brightly coloured portraits in ‘Remember Me’, one for each of the 12 women serving death penalty and life sentences at Nsawam Prison. That contrast is deliberate, as part of an attempt to change the conversation around incarceration in Ghana. Rather than seeing these women as irredeemable, lesser and other, the project tells a story of creativity, hope and connection. It seeks to grant these women the validation of being remembered as people with identities more complex than their incarcerated status. 

The portraits are the last stage in a collaborative and participatory art project conceived by photographer Francis Kokoroko and artist and stylist Rania Odaymat, and facilitated and supported by The Fair Justice Initiative, a local NGO. Throughout 2018, Rania and Francis visited the prison to conduct different workshops that would encourage the women to express their own aesthetics, views and aspirations. The first focused on collage making, the results of which were later used to provide direction and inspiration for the final portrait making session. A second image-making workshop using a Fujifilm Instax instant camera explored body language and expression, a way to circumvent the prison restrictions on photographing faces whilst the permit to lift that ban remained pending. Finally, permission for the final portrait session was granted. The portraits were produced within a stipulated two-hour time window with the assistance of a team of volunteers from Dark and Lovely, and from make-up artist Sandra Don-Arthur.

In each photograph, the women swap their blue and white prison garb for traditional dress, elaborate headpieces and carefully coordinated accessories. They are strong, beautiful, and smiling. These are women who want to be remembered not just for their crimes, but for being Adwoa, Abena, Agnes, Ama A, Mary, Lamisi, Ama Y, Esther, Akosua, Salamatu, Zelia and Talata.

After being shown as part of the ‘Make Be’ exhibition at La Maison in October 2018, the advocacy work of the project is expanding to new forms. Rania, Francis and The Fair Justice Initiative are working to develop a coffee table book to present to diplomats and politicians in Ghana with the power to influence policy change. The book contains both the photographs and testimonies from the women themselves on their challenges, hopes and dreams. It is hoped that a second edition and a calendar will also be produced to raise awareness through sale to the general public, and that the exhibition will be able to travel to new audiences.

 

Rania and Francis’ work is available to see on their Instagram pages, @accraphoto and @rania_odaymat. You can follow the development of the ‘Remember Me’ project through The Fair Justice Initiative’s social media (Instagram/Twitter/Facebook) at @fairjusticegh, and on their website www.fairjusticegh.com.

About the guest contributors:

Rania Odaymat is an artist, stylist, creative facilitator and curator. She is one of the founding members of the Beyond Collective, a Ghanaian non-governmental organisation whose aim is to promote creative awareness and education, as well as facilitate artistic exchanges and collaborations. She is also a trustee of the Fair Justice Initiative.

Francis Kokoroko is a creative and photojournalist with a keen interest in documenting the ever-evolving cultures and everyday life on the African continent. He uses his images to communicate a personal message, and believes that emotion is the most important element of any picture.

Rosie Worster is the Director of Programmes at The Fair Justice Initiative (FJI), a Ghanaian non-governmental organisation (NGO) working primarily with detainees at Nsawam Medium Security Prison. Their mission is to combat discrimination and prejudice against current and former inmates, ensure equal access to effective legal representation, and improve the conditions of confinement in Ghanaian prisons.

 

A note from PAC’s Manager: Though PAC typically focuses on programs and artists in and around the US justice system, when we learned about the Remember Me project, we were eager to help expand its reach. We hope you’re as inspired by it as we are.

 

 

“My body may be imprisoned, but nothing can keep my creative vision from reaching out beyond these walls.” – the unbounded heartwork of Carole Alden

Woman Impaled - Part 1 of Bars Triptych
Prison Cell Bars Triptych, part 1: “‘Woman impaled upon bars’: I originally did this concept when I was very first incarcerated and facing a sentence of 20 – life. I had been unexpectedly ripped from my children’s lives. Out of five children I still had two that were young enough to be at home. A 14 year old son and a 9 year old daughter. The positioning of the woman represents the overwhelming pain and mental anguish at seeing my hopes and dreams disappear beyond a horizon. I felt helpless and hopeless for a long time.”  
Woan Crocheting - Part 2 of Bars Triptych
Part 2: “The woman crocheting is an act of defiance. This is a mindset developed after over a decade. My body may be imprisoned, but nothing can keep my creative vision from reaching out beyond these walls. Whether it’s beauty, or a statement…it’s going to places I may never. This piece is about finding your voice in whatever manner available to you.”
Untitled - Part 3 of Bars Triptych
Part 3: “In this cell, the fish represents the protective mental and emotional barriers we construct to keep ourselves safe. The child represents the changes we go through to nurture our new dreams.”
“The pregnant mermaid and the male with his back turned has to do with domestic violence. Being held captive by a spouse who hides their true nature. Feeling trapped, dead inside, and praying for your children.”
Baby Peeling Head Open
“Baby Peeling Head Open – This represents therapy in prison. You’re treated like a child in a steel playpen. Painful but necessary to examine the content of your head in order to grow beyond your circumstances.”

Mermaid and Fish

Mermaids
“There are four drawings that incorporate mermaids with children or fish. These are simply joyful pieces.”

Mermaid and Fish

Mermaid

 

 

Girl with Dragon
“‘Girl with Dragon’ represents the desire I had as a child to feel protected.”
Hippocampus
“The horse sea creature is a hippocampus from mythology. Just for fun.”

 

Cadillac - When I'm Free
“The Cadillac fiber sculpture (crochet) is a piece that is part of a “When I am free” series. It helps me to visualize a day when I am no longer in prison. I feel that it is crucial to develop a freedom within yourself regardless of your surroundings. It gives you that reservoir of spirit that keeps you intact mentally and emotionally no matter what you have to cope with behind bars. If you believe that they can’t take who you are away from you, then they won’t be able to ever silence you completely. Creating works of art and words are the best way to continue your connection with the larger world.”

When I Am Free

When I Am Free

When I Am Free

 

 

 

Images from Behind Prison Walls offers a rare opportunity to see artwork from incarcerated men and women

Contributed by Rehabilitation Through The Arts

 

Ossining, NY, June 13 2018 – Images from Behind Prison Walls is an exhibit of more than 60 pieces of artwork from men and women incarcerated in five maximum and medium security prisons, including Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the only maximum-security prison for women in New York State, that will be on display at the Ossining Public Library Art Gallery throughout the month of July.

All the artwork has been created by prisoner members of RTA – Rehabilitation Through The Arts, a non-profit organization operating in the prison system over twenty-two years. Because of their long-standing and positive relationship with NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, RTA received approval to exhibit and sell the artwork.

A public Gallery Reception will be held in the Ossining Public Library Art Gallery on Saturday, July 14 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm and will feature refreshments and the opportunity to talk with formerly incarcerated RTA artists including Jeffrey Clemente and Amaury Bonilla.

Jeffrey Clemente, who was a member of RTA while serving seven years at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, said, “When I got involved with RTA it expanded my imaginative mind about art and took me to another creative space. It was like I was able to express myself in this creative environment without any judgment…art is really the platform that allowed me to express myself.”

Amaury Bonilla served 10 years at Sing Sing. About the Ossining exhibit, he comments, “Society only looks at people convicted of a crime as criminals and that’s all they know, when it’s not reality – prisoners are still human beings who have different talents and skills, and through this exhibit, visitors will gain awareness that we’re not just a number; we’re human beings able to express ourselves in numerous ways.”

RTA is partnering with the Ossining Public Library (OPL), the Ossining Arts Council (OAC) and the Sing Sing Prison Museum (SSPM) to make this important exhibit available to the public. These three Ossining-based nonprofits share RTA’s belief in the transformative power of the arts to change lives and build communities. By providing the space, expertise and historical context for the artwork, the OPL, OAC, and SSPM aim to enhance RTA’s work in telling the stories of incarcerated people and how they benefit through the healing power of art in all its forms.

Rehabilitation Through The Arts uses the creative arts of theatre, dance, visual art, creative writing, and music to transform lives. Its curriculum develops and expands critical life skills for the more than 200 incarcerated men and women they serve. Two evidenced-based and published studies have proven the arts curriculum RTA delivers is effective in changing discipline records and is a catalyst for learning. RTA prisoner members do not return to prison.  While the national recidivism (return to prison) rate is more than 50%, RTA’s recidivism is less than 7%.

The Ossining Public Library (OPL) is located at 53 Croton Avenue. For more information visit www.ossininglibrary.org, or call 914-941-2416.  For information on RTA, visit www.rta-arts.org, email to info@rta-arts.org or call 914-232-7566.

All I see is freedom
All I See is Freedom by John McKeever

 

Magical Garden
Magical Garden by Hector Rodriguez Green Haven CF

 

All Color Matter #1
All Color Matter #1 by George Tucker Sing Sing CF

 

Contacts: Barbara Branagan-Mitchell 860-210-0149; Jackie Kunhardt 860-271-1694

About the Ossining Public Library

The Ossining Public Library is a School District Public Library chartered by the State of New York to serve all residents of the Ossining School District. As a member of the Westchester Library System, it also provides services to a larger community. The Ossining Public Library enriches, connects, and inspires our community. For more information, visit www.ossininglibrary.org.

About the Ossining Arts Council

The Ossining Arts Council (OAC) is a not-for-profit volunteer organization devoted to demonstrating that art, in all its forms, is an important, vital and affirming force—both in the life of a community and in the life of each individual it touches. OAC helpsits artist members and promotes their work through OAC hosted events, use of its physical Gallery Space in the OAC Steamer Firehouse, a dedicated artist profile and showcase through its Online Galleries and various other channels. OAC offers a social and creative hub, where like-minded people can meet, share ideas and foster new projects and collaborations. For more information, visit www.ossiningartscouncil.org.

About The Sing Sing Prison Museum

Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a working maximum-security prison where the theories and realities of criminal punishment and rehabilitation have played out for almost 200 years. It’s a place with many stories to tell from many sides. Housed just outside the prison walls, the new Sing Sing Prison Museum will unlock the history of this world-famous institution through exhibits, artifacts and experiences. At the same time, the museum aims to take center stage in the urgent national conversation about social justice and incarceration. In illuminating these issues, in telling these stories, Sing Sing Prison Museum will tell us much about ourselves. For more information, visit www.singsingprisonmuseum.org.