Art sets him free

Mr Yeow, who has spent half his life going in and out of jail, working on his wall art for the Yellow Ribbon exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum. It is his first contribution to the show done outside the prison walls - he was released in April las
Mr Yeow, who has spent half his life going in and out of jail, working on his wall art for the Yellow Ribbon exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum. It is his first contribution to the show done outside the prison walls - he was released in April last year. Now a gallery owner, he is the artist in residence at this year's event, which features 81 works by inmates and ex-offenders. One of the featured works is My Family Tree.PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM, YELLOW RIBBON COMMUNITY ART EXHIBITION
Mr Yeow, who has spent half his life going in and out of jail, working on his wall art for the Yellow Ribbon exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum. It is his first contribution to the show done outside the prison walls - he was released in April las
Mr Yeow, who has spent half his life going in and out of jail, working on his wall art for the Yellow Ribbon exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum. It is his first contribution to the show done outside the prison walls - he was released in April last year. Now a gallery owner, he is the artist in residence at this year's event, which features 81 works by inmates and ex-offenders. One of the featured works is My Family Tree (above).PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM, YELLOW RIBBON COMMUNITY ART EXHIBITION

Ex-convict turned artist guides inmates and ex-offenders taking part in Yellow Ribbon exhibition

Painting was once a form of distraction for Mr Barry Yeow, who first picked up the brush in 2011 during his time behind bars.

While struggling with feelings of remorse and fear, the 49-year- old went on to create paintings that were featured in four Yellow Ribbon Project public art exhibitions. This year, he will again be one of the artists featured in the exhibition, which started 10 years ago. Mr Yeow's acrylic wall art installation will be showcased at the entrance of a gallery at the Singapore Art Museum from Thursday.

It will be his first contribution to the annual Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition done outside the prison walls, after Mr Yeow was released in April last year.

"I first did art inside (prison) to distract myself from the failures in my life. But now that I am outside and painting, it's liberating and humbling," he told The Sunday Times on Friday, as he painted the first bold strokes of yellow and red on a midnight blue wall on site.

Titled Whole Again, his installation is part of 81 works of art by inmates and former offenders at the annual exhibition.

The exhibition includes various mediums, such as acrylics, batik paintings and embroidery work. For instance, a ceramic sculpture showing a pair of feet lifting off the ground symbolises an inmate's wish to leave his dark past behind.

Mr Yeow, who has spent more than half his life going in and out of jail for drug- and gang-related offences, began learning art at the Changi Prison Complex's Visual Arts Hub.

He said of his painting: "It symbolises the journey many inmates take before and after their release. There will be darkness, but it is about focusing on the light, on heading towards a destination where there is acceptance."

Mr Yeow, who now runs his own art gallery in Commonwealth, added that he prefers to paint freehand to let his moods and emotions shape the final art piece.

As an artist in residence, Mr Yeow provided artistic guidance and emotional support to inmates on regular visits to the Changi Prison Complex in the months leading up to the event.

The exhibition's chairman, Superintendent of Prisons Edwin Goh, said: "This year's theme is From Night To Light, which is an inspiring imagery that shows the process of transformation and change."

Like Mr Yeow, many inmates do not have any artistic background, he added, but "art gives them the confidence to express themselves and articulate their feelings through a non-verbalised way".

The exhibition will open to the public from Friday, coinciding with this year's Singapore Night Festival.

Admission is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Art sets him free'. Print Edition | Subscribe