The Jakarta Post
Dreams of freedom: Visitors to the Napi Craft exhibition take photos beside an art installation that features jellyfish dolls. (The Jakarta Post/Umair Rizaludin)
Through arts and crafts, convicts are getting a second chance in life.
One of Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin’s most famous quotes is, “Prisons are universities of crime, maintained by the state.” This paints the bleak reality for most inmates. Once someone goes to prison, he or she is more likely to become a worse ciminal than to be rehabilitated.
A recent art exhibition, however, is trying to shed a little bit of light and show that, at times, some inmates do their best to become better human beings while incarcerated.
The exhibition, called “Napi Craft” — the word napi means “prisoner” in Indonesian — has been taking place at the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics in Jakarta since Oct. 31 and runs until Nov. 7. It displays selected works by inmates in penitentiaries in Jakarta, Tangerang, Malang, Riau and Kalimantan.
This year’s exhibition was the seventh and it was organized through collaboration between the Law and Human Rights Ministry’s Correctional Facilities Directorate General and the Second Chance Foundation, a non-governmental organization that focuses on the empowerment of inmates.
Using the theme of “Hope”, the exhibition tried to show the inmates’ journeys to become better and enhance themselves through their artwork.
One of the inmates is 30-year-old Delima “Mickey” Sari Putri from the Tangerang Women and Juvenile Facility. For the exhibition, Mickey demonstrates the creation and installation of her handmade flannel dolls in a work entitled “Self-Reflection”.
“When Second Chance came, they taught us how to paint a bag, until one day they asked me what can I do other than drawing. I showed them my handmade dolls. They became interested and asked me to do something for the exhibition,” Mickey said.
Mickey’s installation consisted of one huge flannel doll surrounded by 75 miniature versions of it hanging on the installation that reflected the good will of the prisoners to change themselves. Their hopes and dreams are instilled into the small dolls, each of which wields different accessories.
Each of the small dolls carries a tiny scroll containing the hopes and dreams of the female prisoners that can be pulled out and opened. Visitors are allowed to touch and read them as Mickey says that was the main purpose of her work.
Mickey, who has been incarcerated since September 2016 for possession of marijuana, still has six months left in her prison sentence.
“There are a lot of things to learn inside [prison]. Back then [before incarceration], I didn’t have much time, being selfish. I find that being imprisoned is the perfect moment for self-reflection,” Mickey said.
Mickey originally gained her interest in art from her artist friends’ love of recycling used items. She said that if she found some wool, glue, newspapers, tissues and wires, she could turn it all into a lamp.
Realizing the economic value of her work, she dreams of having her own workshop once her sentence is over.
The sections of the exhibition are in no particular order and, therefore, visitors have to themselves try to understand how the story of an inmate’s journey is being conveyed.
In a section called Proses (process), inmates showcase works that talk about their lives and experiences, as well as their personal development inside the penitentiaries.
One of the works displayed in the Proses section is by ex-convict Angki Purbandono and it is called “Out of the Box”. Angki’s work is a series of photos showing household items that represent life behind bars. Now, Angki has become a full-time artist and his works are regularly featured at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.
Another section called Freedom displays knitted jellyfish dolls hanging in a box-shaped installation that has oval mirrors all around it to create a visual illusion. This work, created by the inmates of a Malang penitentiary, caught the attention of many visitors who took photographs.
The jellyfish dolls were designed by Mira Hoeng, who is also the curator of the exhibition, and they symbolize freedom from self-suffering because, in real life, jellyfish are able to maintain serenity even in the darkest parts of the ocean.
Not far away is the Achievement section, which displays commercial products, such as footballs and baseball gloves, manufactured by inmates. These products have been in demand because of their quality and they are even exported.
Overall, the exhibition tries to remind society that convicts also have hopes and dreams, just like other humans.
“We still need to eat, sleep, hang out and have a laugh with friends. The only thing that we cannot do is to get out of prison before the time of sentencing is up. What’s the difference? That’s all,” Mickey said.
The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.