Fine Arts student takes up unique project

Kallie Garcia brings art to correctional institution.

“I’m there because I want to work with their demographic, but I’m also there because my liberation is tied up with theirs. I’ve met some of the smartest people in prison, and . . . some of the most honest and real people.”

– Kallie Garcia, Mt. A Fine Arts student

While Mount Allison students all find their own ways to enjoy their weekends in the Sackville area, one student has taken up an activity that is entirely unique. Fifth-year fine arts student Kallie Garcia has found a way to make art accessible to a sector of society that she feels has been overlooked. For two years, Garcia has spent every Saturday at the Westmorland Institution in Dorchester, where she holds silk screening sessions for incarcerated men. By setting up a studio in the multi-purpose room of the institution, she has provided an outlet for artistry. “Every Saturday, the games room gets transformed to a silk screening studio where men can come and gather to make gifts and prints for their families and loved ones,” said Garcia.

At first, Garcia’s project came with challenges. It took repeated calls to Westmorland to agree to allow her to set up her studio, and she found that her students were a little standoffish, at the beginning. “They were all really wary of me at first,” said Garcia. With determination and commitment, she developed positive bonds with the men she works with. “I just continued to go every single weekend, and I kept my word, and I did what I said I was going to do.”

Garcia refers to the men she works with as her students, but she stresses that the project is collaborative; the benefits are mutual for both. Through silk screening, “[the men] start to think of themselves as creators, and critical thinkers, and artists,” said Garcia. Above all, Garcia’s aim is to provide an opportunity for feeling and expression. “I think self-knowledge is genius, so if you become self-aware, you can work through these situations and these problems that you could have had.” In return, Garcia has greatly benefited from her work at Westmorland. “I’m there because I want to work with their demographic, but I’m also there because my liberation is tied up with theirs. I’ve met some of the smartest people in prison, and . . . some of the most honest and real people,” said Garcia. She has also developed a higher commitment to honesty and openness, and has come to understand issues in society that many people do not recognize.

Along with silk-screening, Garcia and the men she works with are in the process of collaborating on a book. “It’s about the lived realities of incarceration and suppression, oppression, and depravation; the choices made in times of weakness, and the repercussions of those choices.” The book is targeted towards at-risk youth and young offenders, and Garcia hopes it will help end the cycle of crime. She also feels that it is important to have the content of the book come from the men, not from her. Garcia stressed her desire to stay out of this aspect of the collaboration, “I’m not going to pretend that I’ve broken my arm if I haven’t broken my arm.” In order to be accessible, the book will be aimed at all levels of literacy.

As a part of the book project, each copy of the book will include a CD. Garcia commented on her interest in taking on this project,  “[I’ve been] interested in giving these men voices because they’ve been silenced for so long.” According to the artist, there is a lot to be learned through someone’s voice. “I like the idea that you can get a lot from someone’s voice. You can hear hurt and you can hear sincerity and honesty, and I like that rawness…”

Garcia was the recipient of a 500 dollar grant from the Crake foundation, which will go toward the production of the book. However, Garcia admits that funding her project has been her biggest challenge.

If you would like to learn more about the project, Garcia is holding an art show from April 23 to May 3. Describing the show as “a retrospective of all the work we’ve done together in the prison,” Garcia’s exhibit will also include a video of the men’s hands while silk screening. Upon graduation, Garcia is planning to continue with this project through a master’s degree at the University of Regina. She hopes to keep up  her work well into the future, and to continue to do art with incarcerated members of society.

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