FUTURE: ROLE OF PRISON IN SOCIETY
76x98cm, board game
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ABOUT THE WORK
In Erika's own words
This game is based on a game produced by the Suffragettes called ‘Pank-O-Squith’ in which the goal is to be the first get to the end - The houses of Parliament! This Holloway Women’s Building Game is designed as not only a celebration of the history of HMP Holloway, but as an educational and campaigning tool for an inclusive and transformative Women’s Building that addresses the vacuum of services that the closure of the prison has created, and provide a hub for not only women, but women in touch with, in danger of becoming involved with the Criminal Justice System and the community as a whole.
There are 20 games in this Limited edition that represent each of the 15 landings, the Segregation unit, the kitchens, the Gym, the Governors, and a special Suffragette set. Each set includes one prison Officer and three handcuffed prisoners on beds made from real prison sheets.
The game tells the history of the prison from its incarnation in 1852 known as ‘The Castle’; an imposing gothic style building, through its rebuild in the early 1980’s into the red brick building that we know today. The announcement that the Government wanted to close all the Victorian Prisons in London was made in November of 2015 and prison was closed in 2016 despite the fact that HMP Holloway was not a Victorian Prison and was the only Women’s prison in London. Inmates were shipped to Prisons outside London a long way from their families and friends and the land was put up for sale. The council applied a supplementary Planning document that stipulated that the developer would have to adhere to: Provide housing, with 60% affordable and social housing and a Women’s Building/Centre.
In March 2019 it was announced that the Mayor’s Office had loaned Peabody £40 million to help buy the site. Reclaim Holloway and Community Plan 4 Holloway are now working with Peabody, Islington Council and the Community to determine what a Women’s Building should be, what services and spaces it would house and what it might look like.
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to give London a world renowned iconic progressive Women’s Building that will bring together services that will help women in all areas of their lives on one site in Islington, across the Capital and beyond.
Erika spent 3 years in custody and was resident in HMP Holloway during its closure in June 2016, before being shipped out to HMP Send to complete her sentence. Being creative throughout her sentence, Erika is passionate about raising the profile of arts within the Criminal Justice System as well as using art to raise awareness of broader issues around incarceration and its wider impacts on society.
We had a short chat with Erika to get to know her better
How did you get into making art?
When I was a child I remember habitually drawing horses, I absolutely loved it. I didn't do art in school as a chosen subject, but then I took it up two months before the GCSE exam which I passed, hence my decision to attend art school. I had a boyfriend at the time who was at art college. I saw what he was doing and decided that this was something I would like to do too. At college I gained a degree in graphic design, it was quite commercial and wasn't therefore very self exploratory. At the moment I am doing a remote learning Degree course at Open College of Arts called Practice of Painting and this is where I’m finally starting to have my own voice as an artist.
I started the distance learning Degree course in prison. I saw it in The Prison Education Trust manual and thought “Practice of Painting degree course? Yea I’d love to do that!” I had to apply for funding for it, which I was delighted to be granted. Thinking that I was doing the whole degree, it was only part way through the first module I realised that this module wasn’t the whole course - it was just the first module! And that it’s probably going to take me 12 years to complete this course! I have continued with the course since my release and have put so many hours into it now that there is no way I would just give it up. I’ve reached the point now where I see the exercises as opportunities for me to use my voice as an artist and produce work that I can exhibit and sell.
Since college I’ve always been involved in art, mainly through, in fairly commercial practice. Prison liberated my art in a way, because I was able to do what I wanted, however, It really took a while to feel comfortable and creative in what I was doing. My materials were limited, but using what I could find combined with a bit of improvisation I could express myself in any way I wanted. It was weird feeling like a student again - it almost felt like a foundation course, but I embraced it.
What were your early influences?
I was doing graphics, so initially I was mostly interested in type. I remember going into the college during the summer so that I could learn how to use their typesetting machine (now a relative antique!) which I am sure was the beginning of my venture into the world of IT self-learning. As my career developed working in the commercial sector, I picked up a great variety of skills that I could use and apply to other areas of my work.
Now, as I’m spreading my wings I have quite a good tool box, enabling me to work in many different mediums that I can apply as the project calls for.
What gives you the creative spark? What inspires you?
I set up the domain “recorded in art” before I went to prison. I wanted to document things because I'm inspired by observing everything that goes on around me. I began 'Postcards from Prison' a series of 1400 daily drawn postcards documenting my journey through a custodial sentence 3 months before I was incarcerated whilst on bail, mainly as a cathartic process, but also to document my experience in a world that most people never want to see! The idea for postcards from prison connected perfectly to the domain name and that began my journey with Erika as the pseudonym, a name I use to protect my family's confidentiality. I wanted to document Erika’s story, to record it in art.
I now use the coursework to exorcise my personal rants! For one of the exercises I wanted to raise awareness about the excessive amount of plastic that we have in our everyday lives. Looking at how much plastic there is in my house, how much waste I produce, how much plastic there is at the supermarket, I could make work that expressed my despair about the subject. I’m quite inspired by the environmental conversation and trying to address climate change through some of my art. I made a dolphin out of polythene waste to wear on my cycling helmet, to highlight the issue of plastic waste in the oceans.
What’s your creative process?
I’ll use the coronavirus postcards as an example because they are current. I have a sketchbook where I jot down any ideas that come up, and then when I cycle around as my main form of transport and for my daily exercise, I sort of mull them over and think about the best ways to illustrate them to get the idea across. By the end of the day I might have that idea ready to go. I waver between being impulsive with my work to being determined and diligent. I tend to have a very clear picture of how I want it to look, a quick sketch is enough to begin doing very elaborate illustrations.
In terms of medium, I use whatever I feel is most suitable for the project that I am working on at the time. Postcards from prison are all drawn in pencil as that was the only medium that was available to me at the time, the Covid-19 postcards I did directly in pen, firstly in black and white, then evolved to adding colour. As far as painting is concerned, I am happy to paint in acrylic, watercolour or oils, recently I have realised the environmental impact of using modern oil paints with turps, sourcing ways in which I can make my practice more environmentally friendly with the materials that I use such as using natural earth pigments that you mix with walnut oil. I believe we should all look at areas in our lives where we can replace products that we use with more eco friendly alternatives.
What does art mean for you?
I’m quite prolific in my work and it makes me feel like I’ve done something, and gives me satisfaction of being productive. It enables me to have a voice and say something visually in a way that words can not. It’s a really essential part of living for me - it nourishes my soul. I honestly can’t imagine not having art in my life!