Art works help inmates share their thoughts

Former inmate and potter Kim Whye Kee (left) worked with 10 inmates to create a mixed-media installation called Family Dinner. One part of the piece features ceramic bowls which were smashed and mended back together (below).
Former inmate and potter Kim Whye Kee (above) worked with 10 inmates to create a mixed-media installation called Family Dinner. One part of the piece features ceramic bowls which were smashed and mended back together.ST PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI
Former inmate and potter Kim Whye Kee (left) worked with 10 inmates to create a mixed-media installation called Family Dinner. One part of the piece features ceramic bowls which were smashed and mended back together (below).
Former inmate and potter Kim Whye Kee worked with 10 inmates to create a mixed-media installation called Family Dinner. One part of the piece features ceramic bowls which were smashed and mended back together (above).ST PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI

Cracked bowls, incomplete embroidery among works at show that boosted Yellow Ribbon Fund

One work involves cracked rice bowls, another features embroidery with missing corners.

Imperfect as they may be, the art works shown at the Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition last month expressed the hopes and yearnings of the inmates and former offenders who created them.

The art works at the exhibition, held at the Singapore Art Museum, have gone from prison to gallery, and half of them have now found new homes and raised more than $14,700.

Visitors bought 41 of the 81 art pieces at the exhibition titled A New Horizon, which drew nearly 7,700 visitors over three weeks ending on Dec 27. It was the exhibition's eighth edition and, including the latest sum collected, it has raised $66,000 over five years for the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which supports rehabilitation and re-integration programmes for former offenders.

While many inmates do not have an art background, their creations have given them a powerful platform to share their thoughts, said exhibition chairman and Superintendent of Prisons Doris Ng.

"Not many inmates can express themselves well through words and some are quite shy," she said "But from their art, you can see the hopes they have about their family and society."

The show featured acrylic paintings, embroidery work and ceramic sculptures which took 42 inmates up to three months to complete.

One collaborative work on display was a mixed-media installation titled Family Dinner.

It was created by the exhibition's artist-in-residence and potter Kim Whye Kee and 10 inmates from the Visual Arts Hub at the Changi Prison Complex.

The piece was inspired by an inmate's experience behind bars, and depicts his longing for a simple family dinner.

"Every inmate hopes to go home to his family. It was usually the first thought I would have when the handcuffs were around my hands," said the 36-year-old Kim, who went in and out of jail for about a decade after getting involved in gangs and drugs from the age of 18.

"I dreamt of going home for a simple meal with my father. But six months before I was released, he passed away from cancer. It was too late," he said.

After his father's death in 2007, Mr Kim picked up pottery in prison, which gave him the peace and motivation he needed following his father's death.

In the installation, which he has dedicated to his parents and sister, he placed a lone chair facing three cracked rice bowls on a dining table. Each bowl was carved with messages that could be seen only through their reflections on the table.

"It's like a person sitting there, thinking about what to say to his family during dinner," he said.

"Sometimes, we feel pai seh (Hokkien for embarrassed) and the words just don't come out."

Also featured were 14 other ceramic bowls which were smashed and mended back together.

"I put the pieces back together using clay and gold paint. I wanted to show the inmates that even though they've made mistakes, their family and the community will always offer them a second chance," he said.

Three years ago, Mr Kim, who was released in 2008, graduated with a degree in fine arts from Lasalle College of the Arts with the support of his mother, who worked as a cleaner, as well as his sister and the Yellow Ribbon Project. Mr Kim now runs pottery workshops in his own studio.

Said Supt Ng: "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you or I evaluate (the artists') artwork. It's precious to them because their inspiration came from their loved ones."

Mr Nicholas Woo, 29, a bank relationship manager who bought an acrylic painting at the exhibition, said: "I think it's great that the inmates had the opportunity to showcase their talent. They have a bright future ahead should they choose to pursue it next time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Art works help inmates share their thoughts'. Print Edition | Subscribe