Prison inmates put their talents on show in Yellow Ribbon art exhibition

President Halimah Yacob viewing works at the Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition with Singapore Art Museum's assistant curator John Tung (right) on Sept 21, 2018.
President Halimah Yacob viewing works at the Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition with Singapore Art Museum's assistant curator John Tung (right) on Sept 21, 2018.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
The works of 50 inmates are on display at this year's edition of the Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition.
The works of 50 inmates are on display at this year's edition of the Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - He was jailed four years for drug offences, but found an avenue to focus his thoughts and feelings behind bars and set him on a different path - art.

Daniel (not his real name) developed his passion in painting while in prison and saw his work exhibited at the annual Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition between 2014 and last year.

The exhibition began in 2007 to provide inmates with a platform to express their commitment to their families and society, and to showcase their artistic talent.

The works of 50 inmates are on display at this year's edition, which was launched by President Halimah Yacob on Friday (Sept 21) at Raffles City shopping mall.

Open till Sept 30, the exhibition features 78 artworks, such as paintings and ceramic works.

The theme "Transitions: Crossroads and Choices" reflects the challenges in inmates' lives, and the difficult decisions they have to make in the course of their rehabilitation.

Daniel had been selected to join the Visual Arts Hub at the Changi Prison Complex after he attended a basic art course when he began his prison sentence in 2014.

Inmates are accepted into the hub based on their capability and conduct.

Having been imprisoned multiple times for drug offences, Daniel's latest stint was especially painful as it was the first time he had to leave behind his wife, 38, and two sons, aged six and eight.

"My sons had to grow up without the love of their father," said the 51-year-old delivery driver.

It also made him realise how much his mother, now 68, must have missed him all those years when he was in prison. He vowed to turn over a new leaf and not go astray again.

Since his release in January this year, he has been continuing to paint in acrylic.

Through his works, he wants to send a message stressing the importance of family.


Through his works, Daniel wants to send a message stressing the importance of family. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Nanyang Academy of Fine Art lecturer Edwin Ho, 37, an artist mentor to inmates for the exhibition, said such a platform boosts their confidence.

"It showcases their artistic talent, telling society they have something valuable to offer back. Also, the proceeds from the adoption of the artworks all go to charity."

Mr John Tung, 28, Singapore Art Museum's assistant curator and curator for this year's exhibition, said the programme helps inmates express feelings that are usually hard to put in words.

President Halimah said at Friday's event: "Through the artworks, visitors will be able to empathise with their past struggles and mistakes, connect with their desire for acceptance and support their hopes for the future."

During her years as an MP, former convicts would tell her about their difficulty finding work and fighting social stigma.

"I think that acceptance and support is important, so they can get back on the right track."