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Speaking True Stories an exhibition in rehabilitation

Published: 5 Mar 2013

An exhibition of Indigenous art in Perth is helping in the rehabilitation of aboriginal prisoners from Serco’s Acacia Prison.

Wangka Mulapa Tjukurrpa (Speaking True Stories) is the culmination of six months of teaching and mentoring by the Prison’s art education team and local artists who have contributed their time and skills for the prisoners. The exhibition is being held at Showcase Gallery at Central Institute of Technology in Northbridge.

The program, Acacia Dreaming, has been run at Acacia Prison to give indigenous prisoners an opportunity to develop skills in art and reconnect with community.

The program is part of Serco’s wider rehabilitation and restorative justice approach linked to improved mental health, skill attainment and overall improved community awareness. Restorative Justice allows offenders of a crime to learn from their mistakes and make reparations by engaging with the wider community.

Acacia Dreaming involved a series of workshops with practicing painters and mentors where participants improved their painting skills and learned about curating and framing.

Serco’s Director at Acacia prison, Paul McMullan, said the value of these projects was to develop behavioural changes.

“We have linked up with a range of community groups to allow offenders to maintain a link between the activities they undertook in prison and the results outside.

“Importantly the art project gave an understanding of creative industry job roles relevant to exhibiting, curating and marketing,” Mr McMullan said. “Participants may look to these roles on release.”

Award-winning emerging Western Australian artist Tessa McOnie was one of the mentors who ran workshops with the prisoners. Tessa had previously worked at Rangeview Juvenile Remand Centre and regularly visited the indigenous community of Mowanjum near Derby to paint and work with the residents.

Tessa said the workshops had allowed the prisoners to develop their painting techniques in a comfortable environment.

“The workshops were designed to be flexible where learning new skills happened on request. I would set myself up in a corner and individuals would come in and get on with their painting, she said.

“Occasionally I would offer assistance but most of the time, they would approach me which was good to see. Most of what they wanted to learn and recap on was mixing skin tone colours. I was very impressed at how quickly they picked it up and towards the end of it I think they had taught me more than I taught to them.”

“I often use a technique of oil glazes which builds up colours and depth. The guys at Acacia could really relate to that particularly to get a skin pallet – they were very good at getting the right colour they wanted.

“Over the six workshops that I took, the guys learnt new skills and the paintings improved a lot."

Mr McMullan said the contributions of Tessa and other artists, mentors and volunteers played an important role in Serco’s overall rehabilitation program.

“The volunteers and mentors get to meet the prisoners and see Acacia and the depth of programs we have as part of restorative justice which will help in the creation of opportunities outside,” he said.

“In turn the prisoners get to see how they can use their time to develop skills to make the most of these opportunities whey they are released.”

Acacia Dreaming was supported by Community Arts Network WA (CANWA) and the Department of Corrective Services. It received mentoring support from Opportunities without Boundaries and ArtSource.

Community Arts Network WA manages the Catalyst Community Arts fund on behalf of the State of Western Australia through the Department of Culture and the Arts and is supported by the Mental Health Commission WA.  

Exhibition Details:

Wangka Mulapa Tjukurrpa (Speaking True Stories)

Open until 15 March 2013

Showcase Gallery. Central Institute of Technology.

Corner Aberdeen and Beaufort Streets, Northbridge

Monday – Saturday 12noon – 4pm. Closed Sunday


Note: Photographs available.