The beauty of the art of the interned

The beauty of the art of the interned


Written by: Harmit Athwal

An astonishing exhibition was launched this week in central London of poetry, pottery, paintings, crafts, pictures, photographs, cartoons – all created by men detained under anti-terror laws in the UK.

Appropriately held at Together, a national charity supporting people with mental health needs, this is an eclectic mixture of works, all created by men arrested, detained and psychologically punished by the war on terror. It aims to highlight ‘the mental health concerns and the hidden human tragedy taking place, all in the name of security’.

The exhibition contains information on those unidentifiable men, who can only be referred by initials such as ‘G’ or ‘B’, and their experiences of the British state’s system of indefinite detention without trial. Despite such brutalising experiences the art created (much of it in Long Lartin and Belmarsh maximum secure jails) is singularly beautiful. The thought, imagination and patient work invested in creating such pieces is hard to reconcile with the government’s view that these men are some of the most dangerous and callous in the UK today.

The cartoons are thought provoking and funny, the poetry sad but still hopeful. The copy of Guernica is eye-catching, the ship, train and other mementoes for loved ones made painstakingly from matchsticks are touching. But the intricate painted pottery is the most amazing of all. What is surprising is that such delicacy can come from such tortured minds. The men who created these pieces are still held in prisons, psychiatric hospitals or detained at home under virtual house arrest, their liberty restricted by control orders – all suffering the effects of indefinite detention without trial – as are their families’.

In a touching gesture, all those at the opening night of the exhibition were given hand-crafted cards made by the men as thank-yous for attending. On that evening, families and friends of the artists, lawyers, writers, journalists, campaigners, heard speeches from Moazzam Begg, Victoria Brittain, Cerie Bullivant, Gareth Peirce, Terry Waite and poetry read by Manjinder Virk and Yvonne Ridley.

Everyone should see this exhibition, created by Cageprisoners and Together, which will be showing till Friday 4 July 2008 at Together.

Related links

Victoria Brittain writing in the Guardian: The art of internment


Together: working for wellbeing

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

2 thoughts on “The beauty of the art of the interned

  1. Did we attend the same event? I saw understandably amateur artworks and at least one poem which included dubious lyrics about women and jews. Understandable yes, but not uplifting.  The atmosphere was of a christian prayer meeting, with lots of beaming saintly smiles from fellow travellers listening to a series of sermons. With the exception of an important speech by the jury leader who befriended one of the accused in the Ricin farrago, this was a meeting for the converted. But I was sad that it did not even reach my own heart, let alone act as a bridge to others who might be less clear in their commitments. I would certainly not invite uncommitted people, and to say ‘Everyone should see this exhibition’ is to perpetuate a self-deception. The next night I went to a brilliant lecture by William Dalrymple about the constant interchange between Islam and the West. He ended with a sharp attack on the torture prison-state that the West is presiding over today. The middle-class Primrose Hill audience then responded with 3 anti-muslim hate-speech ‘questions’ in succession. It was a moment of paranoia because at first all the good responses came from non-white people & it looked like the white majority had completely ignored the point of the lecture . I did wish the exhibition had been what IRR’s review said it was, so that I could have recommended it to everyone there. Recently I’ve found myself in a gulf. As a wise friend of mine sums it up: ‘Sadly few anti-imperialists know how to address muslim fundamentalism and most anti-fundamentalists don’t know how to address imperialism. This is a major political tragedy of our time. I think it’s always worth trying to confront it in debates, though it’s extremely hard to do it in public’. As I was not well enough to do so on the night, I’ll be grateful if IRR news service can let me use this space for discussion.

  2. I believe i have been a subject of racial discrimination in my workplace and wish to discuss this and take action against the company , please can anyone provide me with an email address of whom to write to Thanks

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