+
6 beautiful drawings by LGBTQ inmates that illustrate life in prison

This article originally appeared on 11.14.16


Tatiana von Furstenberg laid out more than 4,000 works of art on the floor of her apartment and was immediately struck by what she saw.

The pieces of artwork were submitted from various prisons across the country in hopes of being featured in "On the Inside," an exhibition of artwork by currently incarcerated LGBTQ inmates, curated by von Furstenberg and Black and Pink, a nonprofit organization that supports the LGBTQ community behind bars. The exhibit was held at the Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan toward the end of 2016.

"I put all the submissions on the floor and I saw that there were all these loving ones, these signs of affection, all of these two-spirit expressions of gender identity, and fairies and mermaids," von Furstenberg said.


She noticed the recurring topics throughout the works of different artists — eye contact, desire, fighting back, alienation, and longing — and these shared struggles became the themes of the art exhibition.

"These artists feel really forgotten. They really did not think that anybody cared for them. And so for them to have a show in New York and to hear what the responses have been is huge, it's very uplifting," she said.

Plenty of people turn to art as a means of escape. But for the artists involved in On the Inside, the act of making art also put them at risk.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are incarcerated at twice the rate of heterosexuals, and trans people are three times as likely to end up behind bars than cisgender people. During incarceration, they're also much more vulnerable than non-LGBTQ inmates to violence, sexual assault, and unusual punishments such as solitary confinement.

Not every prison makes art supplies readily available, either, which means that some of the artists who submitted to "On the Inside" had to find ways to make their work from contraband materials, such as envelopes and ink tubes. And of course, by drawing provocative images about their identities, they also risked being outed and threatened by other inmates around them.

But sometimes, the act of self-expression is worth that risk. Here are some of the remarkable examples of that from the exhibition.

(Content warning: some of the images include nudity.)

1."A Self Portrait" by B. Tony.

2. "Rihanna" by Gabriel S.

"Rihanna is who I got the most pictures of," von Furstenburg said. "I think it's because she is relatable in both her strength and her vulnerability. She's real."

3. "Acceptance" by Stevie S.

"This series is sexy and loving and domestic," von Furstenberg said about these two portraits by Stevie S. "A different look at family values/family portrait."

4. "Michael Jackson" by Jeremy M.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This was another one of von Furstenberg's favorites, because of the way it depicts a struggle with identity. "[MJ] was different, he was such a unique being that struggled so much with his identity and his body image the way a lot of our artists, especially our trans artists, are struggling behind bars," she said.

5. "Unknown" by Tiffany W.

6. "Genotype" and "Life Study," by J.S.

"This is the Michelangelo of the group," von Furstenberg said. "To be able to draw this with pencil and basic prison lighting is astounding. One of the best drawings I've ever seen in my life."

When the exhibition opened to the public on Nov. 4, 2016, visitors even had the chance to share their thoughts with the artists.

The exhibit included an interactive feature that allowed people to text their comments and responses to the artist, which von Furstenberg then converted to physical paper and mailed to inmates.

Some of the messages included:

"I have had many long looks in the mirror like in your piece the beauty within us. I'm glad you can see your beautiful self smiling out. I see her too. Thank you."
"I am so wowed by your talent. You used paper, kool aid and an inhaler to draw a masterpiece. I feel lucky to have been able to see your work, and I know that other New Yorkers will feel the same. Keep creating."
"I've dreamed the same dreams. The barriers in your way are wrong. We will tear them down some day. Stay strong Dear."

Many people were also surprised at how good the artwork was — but they shouldn't have been.

Just because someone's spent time in prison doesn't mean they can't be a good person — or a talented artist. They're also being compensated for their artwork. While business transactions with incarcerated people are technically illegal, $50 donations have been made to each artist's commissary accounts to help them purchase food and other supplies.

"We're led to believe that people behind bars are dangerous, that we're safer without them, but it's not true," von Furstenberg said. "The fact that anybody would assume that [the art] would be anything less than phenomenal shows that there's this hierarchy: The artist is up on this pedestal, and other people marginalized people are looked down upon."

Art has always been about connecting people. And for these incarcerated LGBTQ artists, that human connection is more important than ever.

Perhaps the only thing harder than being in prison is trying to integrate back into society — something that most LGBTQ people struggle with anyway. These are people who have already had difficulty expressing who they are on the inside and who are now hidden away from the world behind walls.

On the Inside's art show provided them a unique opportunity to have their voices heard — and hopefully, their individual messages are loud enough to resonate when they're on the outside too.

True

Innovation is awesome, right? I mean, it gave us the internet!

However, there is always a price to pay for modernization, and in this case, it’s in the form of digital eye strain, a group of vision problems that can pop up after as little as two hours of looking at a screen. Some of the symptoms are tired and/or dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain1. Ouch!

Keep ReadingShow less

Pink sings "Hopelessly Devoted to You."

Pop royalty Pink paid a heartwarming tribute to fellow music icon Olivia Newton-John at the 2022 American Music Awards, which aired this past Sunday, Nov. 20.

Newton-John, who led a lustrous career—including winning 10 AMAs herself—as well as a life dedicated to philanthropy, died of breast cancer at the age of 73 in August of this year. Though Newton-John had a wide variety of beloved hits throughout the years, Pink chose to sing arguably one of her biggest hits of all time, “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
Keep ReadingShow less
Family

There's a brilliant, heartfelt way to tell your kids the truth about Santa. Take notes.

If you're a parent struggling how to break the news, this might help.

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

How to tell your kids the truth about Santa.

This article originally appeared on 12.09.16


"It's the mooost wonderful tiiiiime of the — OH NO, did Charlie just ask if Santa is real?!"

— What some mom or dad is probably thinking this very moment

If you're a parent in a household that celebrates Christmas, you can likely relate to the dreaded Santa Claus conversation. It may come with tears, it may come with tantrums, and it may even be worse for you, seeing that heart-wrenching look of disappointment spread across your child's once-merry face.

Keep ReadingShow less
Science

Zoo camera captures incredible moment mama chimp is reunited with her two-day-old baby

When Kucheza raised his little hand and Mahale realized he was there, everyone felt her joy.

Kucheza was born by emergency C-section and had to be separated from mama Mahale for two days.

Thanks to our close evolutionary proximity and Jane Goodall's years of field research, humans have an intense fascination with chimpanzees. They are clearly not us, yet they are clearly similar to us in many ways, and a viral video from Sedgwick County Zoo beautifully highlights that connection.

Mahale is a 28-year-old chimpanzee who recently gave birth to a baby at Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. According to KSAT News, her labor stalled, which necessitated an emergency C-section. As a result, Mahale and her baby were separated for two days while she started her recovery and her baby received oxygen.

Unlike humans, chimps don't have the language and cognitive abilities to understand what's happening in such a situation. It must have been a confusing experience for Mahale, who had already given birth to two babies prior, to find herself no longer pregnant but not having her baby with her.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo pulled from YouTube video

What kids with autism see.

Imagine everything you'd experience while strolling through a mall — the smells, the sights, the things to touch...

Now imagine all of those feelings and sensations times, like, a hundred.

Keep ReadingShow less