I am the Coyote – The Art of the Special Unit 74 and HMP Humber GRAFT Studio

I am the Coyote – The Art of the Special Unit 74 and HMP Humber GRAFT Studio.

The University of Hull and HMP Humber have partnered-up to commission an extraordinary exhibition aiming to show the power of art as a rehabilitation tool in prisons over 45 years. 

The multi-media exhibition brings together the artists who pioneered the radical approach to rehabilitation looking at the creative process, ground breaking partnerships and the transformation of prisoners.

The exhibition, I am the Coyote – The Art of the Special Unit 74 and HMP Humber GRAFT Studio, opens to the public on Wednesday, 28 August until Sunday, 3 November at the Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull. 

The GRAFT Studio, at HMP Humber, is a unique space where prisoners are able to focus on creativity. Those involved are able to study for City & Guilds qualifications, release stress or learn a language which help to improve their confidence, process emotions and increase self-esteem which are all steps in the redemptive process.

Recent work by HMP Humber’s GRAFT Studio, which has become the largest and most progressive art college in the UK prison sector, is on display at the exhibition. Colour photographs document the group thinking and creative process as well as the experiential teaching strategies which are designed to interrupt negative behaviour patterns.

Graeme Brookes, former Head of Art, HMP Humber, and who was heavily involved in process documented in the exhibited photographs, says: “The display has been supported by Novus, the education provider within HMP Humber, whose learners have contributed their own work and experiences to the exhibition. Novus deliver education, training and employment opportunities to men, women and young people in over 50 UK prisons.”

Peter Cox, Novus Managing Director, said: “Engaging in creative arts projects can help our learners to increase self-confidence and tackle issues, and is a great way to reduce stigma for learners and their families. Receiving recognition for their work and talent can often be crucial in providing our learners with the motivation they need to turn their life around.”

Featured in the exhibition is, I Like America and America Likes Me captured by Caroline Tisdall in 1974 at New York’s Rene Block Gallery. This work was developed through a seminal collaboration between revolutionary Scottish artist, Richard Demarco, CBE; German performance artist, Joseph Beuys; and, HMP Barlinnie’s Special Unit inmate, Jimmy Boyle. 

Further experimental group creativity in a maximum security prison is shown in photographs captured in 1974 by JoAnn Baker. Richard Demarco brought together Joseph Beuys, Phill Hitchcock, Steven Whitacre, Michael K Meyers, Jane Whitaker and Bill Beech to create a series of multidisciplinary art forms. Some are displayed in the exhibition including film showing spoken word, a series of drawings, and stone carvings, created by inmate Jimmy Boyle, occupies the middle of the gallery.

The exhibition has been commissioned as part of the University’s Culture Campus initiative. Marianne Lewsley-Stier, Head of Culture Campus at the University of Hull, adds: “Our vision is to wholeheartedly embrace provocative topics and encourage discussion and debate across our campus. This exhibition will do just that and we couldn’t be more delighted! 

“Rehabilitation within our justice system can be a contentious issue for some. We invite you to visit the exhibition over the next few months, emerge yourself in some of the most radical creative processes of recent times, and decide for yourselves. We welcome this exhibition with anticipation.”

A wider programme of events from workshops to debates, will take place over the course of the exhibition. For more information about these events, please visit www.culturenet.co.uk.

To assist the university’s academic research, a collection of archive material is also being displayed in the rare books section of the Brynmor Jones Library. Viewing is by appointment only. For wider engagement with students and visitors to the university, a number of new artworks will be displayed across campus. (from 28 August – 3 November).

[Marianne Lewsley-Stier, Head of Culture Campus at the University of Hull]

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