Call for Applications: GAP PROJECT - Graffiti Art in Prison
Graffiti Art in Prison
The GAP project connects Palazzo Chiaramonte (Steri) in Palermo, one of the most important cultural sites in Sicily, with artistic expression in prisons today. Graffiti Art in Prison revolves around scientific research, pedagogy, artistic programs, and social engagement. This interdisciplinary structure will impart innovative training and new educational pathways in order to benefit university scholars and enhance their interventions in civil society.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Steri was the site of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition and its prisons. The graffiti, a palimpsest of writings and drawings painted on the cell walls, are a corpus of inestimable historical, artistic, and anthropological value. These unique documents form both the core of the project and its point of departure to other sites of inquiry. The program also includes other Inquisition prison graffiti, specifically that of Narni (Italy), Zaragoza and Tarazona (Spain). These prisons held people from the Mediterranean diasporas with different religions and on those walls the prisoners left traces of their presence and messages to be deciphered: a ‘chorus’ of silent voices with different levels of meaning and a high degree of complexity.
In addition, other forms of prison graffiti and wall paintings, both historical and contemporary, will be addressed and compared to other sites of detainment, such as psychiatric hospitals and concentration camps, spaces characterized by conditions of deprivation, separation, lack of freedom, and censorship. Thus, the project encompasses places of confinement in a broad sense and the creative responses to these specific environments in their multiple dimensions: material, corporeal, psychological, political, social, devotional, spatial, and temporal.
One of the project’s important interventions is to expose inmates to contemporary art practices through artistic programs. The goal of introducing such forms of creativity is to improve their living conditions and to contribute to their future rehabilitation and societal reintegration. This project will also heighten social consciousness for art and architectural research and teaching. The recent coronavirus restrictions and space limitations, the violent protests that broke out in the Italian prisons during the lockdown, and the issue of mass-incarceration and immigration detainment are crises that lend this inquiry into space and control a particular socio-political urgency.
The 6-week-intensive study program for PhD students from different backgrounds and countries plays a key role in the project. This program, organized by the partner institutions of the GAP project, gives participants a broader understanding of the topics related to art in spaces of confinement in the past and present, including the (in)visibility of prison environments, the violence of the wall and its role as a relational tool, visual strategies and textual narratives of self-representation in murals, and the reuse of prisons as spaces for contemporary art. Cultural and methodological issues related to graffiti will be discussed: the relationship between freedom and censorship, the boundaries between art and vandalism, the theory and practice of graffiti as well as their perception and value in different times and places, including their role as political protest and system critique.