+
upworthy
Identity

6 beautiful drawings by LGBTQ inmates that illustrate life in prison

Their artwork shows their strength, resilience, and talent.

incarceration, art, pencil drawing

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.


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.

inmates, jail, sketching

“A Self Portrait” by B. Tony

2. "Rihanna" by Gabriel S.

relationships, identity, rehabilitation

“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.

body art, tattoo, mental health

"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.

celebrity, art, paintings

“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.

pixies, fairie, fantasy

“Unknown” by Tiffany W.

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

anatomy, Michaelangelo, nudes

“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.


This article originally appeared on 11.14.16

Pop Culture

Two brothers Irish stepdancing to Beyoncé's country hit 'Texas Hold 'Em' is pure delight

The Gardiner Brothers and Queen Bey proving that music can unite us all.

Gardiner Brothers/TikTok (with permission)

The Gardiner Brothers stepping in time to Beyoncé's "Texas Hold 'Em."

In early February 2024, Beyoncé rocked the music world by releasing a surprise new album of country tunes. The album, Renaissance: Act II, includes a song called "Texas Hold 'Em," which shot up the country charts—with a few bumps along the way—and landed Queen Bey at the No.1 spot.

As the first Black female artist to have a song hit No. 1 on Billboard's country music charts, Beyoncé once again proved her popularity, versatility and ability to break barriers without missing a beat. In one fell swoop, she got people who had zero interest in country music to give it a second look, forced country music fans to broaden their own ideas about what country music looks like and prompted conversations about bending and blending musical genres and styles.

And she inspired the Gardiner Brothers to add yet another element to the mix—Irish stepdance.

Keep ReadingShow less

Kevin Bacon's farm songs have become a social media favorite.

When Beyoncé dropped two songs from her upcoming album of country tunes, Renaissance: Act II, she may not have expected to make history, but that's exactly what happened. Her first single from the album, "Texas Hold 'Em," shot to the No.1 spot on the Billboard country music charts, making her the first Black female artist to hit that top spot. The catchy tune also topped the Billboard Hot 100 the last week in February 2024, a week after it debuted at No. 2.

Presumbaly, Queen Bey didn't expect her song to become an Irish stepdance hit, though that's also exactly what happened. And surely she didn't expect it to be sung by Kevin Bacon to a bunch of farm animals, yet that also has happened.

Perhaps we should all have expected that, though. There's a precedent here, after all.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photos by Daniela on Unsplash (left) and Rens D on Unsplash (right)

Peeling garlic is notoriously challenging.

If you ever cook with fresh garlic, you know what a challenge it can be to remove the cloves from the skin cleanly, especially if you're starting with a full head.

There are various methods people use to peel garlic, with varying levels of success. Doing it by hand works, but will leave you with garlic-smelling fingertips for the better part of a day. Whacking the head on the counter helps separate the cloves from each other, but doesn't help much with removing the skin.

Some people swear by vigorously shaking the skinned cloves around in a covered bowl or jarred lid, which can be surprisingly effective. Some smash the clove with the flat side of a knife to loosen it and then pull it off. Others utilize a rubber roller to de-skin the cloves.

But none of these methods come close to the satisfaction of watching someone perfectly peeling an entire head of garlic with a pair of tongs.

Keep ReadingShow less

Teen with size 23 feet receives new shoes from Shaq

Any adult responsible for raising a teen will tell you that not only do teens eat a lot and sleep nearly as much as they did as infants, they also grow quickly. Sometimes it feels like their growth spurts are literally happening overnight. You go to sleep with a squeaky voiced teenager that's still shorter than you only to wake up to what appears to be a fully grown man wearing your child's clothes.

It's no wonder that parents can have a hard time keeping up with the ever changing clothes and shoe sizes that come with a growing teen. But Tamika Neal's son has surpassed what would be considered the average height and weight of a 16-year-old, which means he's also outgrown sizes carried in the stores.

According to Cincinnati Children's Hospital, boys aged 16 are typically between 5-foot-3 and 6-foot, weighing between 104 to 180 pounds. Jor'el Bolden is a towering 6-foot-5 and 380 pounds with a size 23 shoe.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Erin Bailey Law (used with permission) and Monstera Production/Pexels

Erin Bailey has taken a hard stand on sleepovers.

A mother who’s a criminal defense attorney is going viral on TikTok for a hard stance she has taken on her children going to sleepovers. For Erin Bailey of South Carolina, the answer is a big no. The reason? There are too many variables that could make her children vulnerable to sexual assault.

Bailey has a practice in Georgetown and is ranked among the Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyers in South Carolina by the National Trial Lawyers.

"I don’t allow my children to go to sleepovers. I’m a criminal attorney and here’s why,” she opens the video. “First and primary is the S.A. [sexual assault] risk. While you may feel like you know the parents who are hosting the sleepover really well, and you know and love and trust them, that's exactly who's committing S.A.”

Keep ReadingShow less
Harold Krichel, Wikipedia/Representative Image from Canva

Anne Hathaway hilariously tries to sit in a tight latex dress during Fashion Week in Milan

Anne Hathaway might have played fashion-oblivious Andrea Sachs in “Devil Wears Prada,” but nowadays, in real life (or at least on the red carpet) she’s more on the level of Miranda Priestley—turning heads at every event with showstopping looks.

However, no matter how high her status as a fashion icon rises, the “Princess Diaries” actress still holds onto her humility.

Case and point: she has no problem sharing what it’s really like to wear certain designer dresses. Spoiler alert: it’s not quite as effortless as the fashionistas make it look.

Keep ReadingShow less