For over a decade now, Australian arts organisation The Torch has been providing art therapy, guidance, and rehabilitation to Indigenous prisoners and parolees. In The Art of Incarceration, filmmaker Alex Siddons follows a number of imprisoned artists as they prepare for the organisation’s annual Confined exhibition. With Siddons’ verité footage and interviews bridged by brief but illuminating narration from acclaimed Indigenous performer Jack Charles, the film asks us not only to consider the issue of Aboriginal incarceration rates, but the ongoing generational trauma of First Nations people having been forcibly severed from their own culture.
“Culture” is a complicated word, but to my mind the most useful definition is “the stories we tell each other about who we believe ourselves to be”. Like water is invisible to fish, culture is largely invisible to those who feel fully supported by it. You don’t notice air unless you’re gasping for breath; you don’t notice gravity unless you’re falling; and often you don’t really engage with the idea of culture unless you find yourselves alienated from it. Fundamentally, this is why participation in and representation by the arts is important—for identity, for community, for a sense of belonging and acceptance.