Sneak peek at Victorian prison art exhibition coming to Birmingham MAC

Art and literature created by prison inmates in jails dating back to Victorian times is going on display in Birmingham

A unique exhibition of art and literature crafted by prison inmates is to be unveiled in Birmingham. 

The behind-bars artwork has been produced by those serving time in prisons built during the Victorian era. Their work will be shown at the Midlands Art Centre (MAC) from January 13 to February 18. 

Entitled “Incarcerated: Contemporary Arts from the Victorian Prison”, the exhibition has been put together by the University of Birmingham, University of Bath and Howard League for Penal Reform. Also featuring photographs by Andy Aitchison, it is part of a project on Victorian jails and how they’ve changed. 

The pieces have come from HMP Liverpool and Lincoln.  The prison system underwent a mass expansion during Victorian times.  From 1842 to 1877,  90 prisons were built or significantly expanded, as part of a concerted building programme. Thirty-two of those prisons still operate in England and Wales – HMP Birmingham among them. 

Matt Houlbrook, Professor in Cultural History at the University of Birmingham, said: “Through drawing, crafts, and creative writing, the incarcerated people whose work features in this exhibition bring the past to life. In so doing, they show us how histories live on through the material fabric of the Victorian prison buildings in which so many people are confined today.” 

Deborah Kermode, MAC artistic director, said: “We believe at MAC that anyone can be an artist, no matter their circumstances. We have a commitment to showcasing work made by people with marginalised voices, which is why the exhibition makes for a great partnership.” 

Let's take a look at some of the exhibits from - Incarcerated: Contemporary Arts from the Victorian Prison coming to the MAC from January 13 to 18:

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