Ex-prisoners in S'pore use art to give back to the community and to heal their souls

·Contributor
·5 min read
Art exhibition Routes features artworks by the previously-incarcerated in Singapore. (PHOTO: Global Cultural Alliance)
Art exhibition Routes features artworks by the previously-incarcerated in Singapore. (PHOTO: Global Cultural Alliance)

SINGAPORE – A recent art exhibition entitled 'Routes', organised by the Global Cultural Alliance (GCA), featured the work of previously-incarcerated artists. These emerging talents are all part of Canvas, a support group providing training for former prisoners at the Visual Arts Hub (VAH) in Changi Prison Complex.

The idea behind the exhibition was to display another side of those who have ended up in the Singapore penal system and to help break down social barriers by showing how art can help with improving mental health. Canvas mentors and volunteers run a variety of art-based programmes to help artists after their release from prison so that they can ultimately give back to the larger community.

"We started out in 2019 as a support group for aspiring artists who were trained at the Visual Arts Hub at Changi Prison Complex. This exhibition is a coming together of art and life," says artist Barry Yeow, co-founder of Canvas and an artist-mentor for the group.

"The artworks created at once show how art has played a transformative role for each of the individual artists as well as how their own life experience has resulted in creations that are distinct and open another world of experiences for the viewer."

Latiff's Nature's Way artwork was featured in the art exhibition Routes. (PHOTO: Global Cultural Alliance)
Latiff's Nature's Way artwork was featured in the art exhibition Routes. (PHOTO: Global Cultural Alliance)

Art is my passion

One of the featured artists, Latiff, has always wanted to be an artist. Art has been a continuing theme despite his personal setbacks in his life.

"Art is my passion, so I have always tried to expand further by attending art classes or to [going to] the library, any art exhibition or museum or to the country to see more established or renowned artists," explains the painter.

Art is so important to him that it has definitely helped him deal with being a previously incarcerated person.

"It's a struggle, but art demands that I remain calm to deal with my issues," Latiff explains. "I tell myself that my RECOVERY must come first so that everything I love in life does not have to come last."

Since his return to the art world, Latiff has exhibited his work in libraries, local art exhibitions, and museums. In 2019, he launched his debut collection, 'Tifera Art Gallery Exhibition' on the theme 'Fearful to Fearless' at Oxley Bizhub. Additionally, he has contributed a painting for the Yellow Ribbon Art Project at the School of the Arts (SOTA).

Art exhibition Routes features artworks by the previously-incarcerated in Singapore. (PHOTO: Global Cultural Alliance)
Art exhibition Routes features artworks by the previously-incarcerated in Singapore. (PHOTO: Global Cultural Alliance)

Art is a form of outlet

Ridhuan has always loved working with his hands in a creative way. A self-trained sculptor and ceramicist, Ridhuan has had to overcome several struggles in his life, including being an introvert with speech impediments. He is motivated by the work of Pablo Picasso and that of German artist and theorist Joseph Beuys.

"I've always been fascinated by those who can draw and create or build functional things from a very young age. And this drove me to try and create art when I was in school where they have a curriculum for it," Ridhuan explains.

"But I guess I unconsciously started creating art when I was playing with plasticine and fusing it into figurines to create personalised toys for myself as a kid."

According to Ridhuan, art is borderless in terms of materials; he works in paint, clay, industrial components and recycled materials.

Art exhibition Routes features artworks by the previously-incarcerated in Singapore. (PHOTO: Global Cultural Alliance)
Art exhibition Routes features artworks by the previously-incarcerated in Singapore. (PHOTO: Global Cultural Alliance)

"Firstly, art is a form of outlet. Allowing you to express or analyse life from certain perspectives. A thinking process. Within that spectrum, there's a sanctuary where you are able to reflect: think, and rethink. I believe that has helped me in some ways," he says.

"Although it is not an all-solving solution, it is a foothold for me to know I'm able to strive even when I have nothing to hold on to."

Ridhuan is very proud to be part of the 'Routes' exhibition: "To me, it is a very special exhibition. Not because of the highlights. But because I'm able to share the dreams [of those involved], the aspiring dreams of the founders and the partners."

For Ridhuan, the founders of Canvas and GCA are as important as the artists involved in the exhibition. "The founders of Canvas, GCA, and their partners, mentors, and supporters are the real artists. They have painted a platform with their beliefs and made us, the artists, feel that we are really home."

With art, I can speak without talking

Being an introvert, there are things I want to say, but I have difficulty speaking about it, but with art, I believe that I can speak about things without talking.Amos

For Amos, the 'Routes' exhibition was his first after his release from prison. He had no expectations or knowledge about the art world but is very grateful to everyone involved.

"I have always been interested in art from a young age. Be it any form - paintings, drawings, music, performance etc.," explains Amos. "I've always loved doodling, but as I was born colourblind, I never really dared to go into painting due to having a fear of colour."

Amos' first painting experience came when he joined the Visual Arts Hub while incarcerated and attended a basic art course. "Painting has helped me learn how to let go of the fear of judgement about how people are going to perceive my use of colours," he says.

Global Cultural Alliance Ltd is a not-for-profit organisation that focuses on building communities and bridging borders. GCA is committed to developing an inclusive Singapore society through arts and culture programmes and positioning Singapore as a cultural hub for the exchange of ideas and shared experiences. Founded in 2014, GCA is a wholly-owned subsidiary of TRCL. For more information, visit www.globalculturalalliance.sg.

Founded in 2019, Canvas is a support group for persons with incarceration experiences who were trained in visual arts programmes while behind bars in prison. We seek to help our aspirants with unique talents to move on with life's journey and to make a difference in the community around us. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/canvasartistssg

Watch more Lifestyle videos:

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting