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Constraint/ Restraint

George Dunbar
Mon 3 Feb, 2020

Our friends at the brilliant National Justice Museum have an exhibition on right now which brings together many art forms, including literature, to describe an almost taboo element of our justice system.

Constraint/Restraint is the latest exhibition at the National Justice Museum which gives a thoughtful and intimate look at ideas about both physical restraint within the penal system and wider notions of constraint and restraint within our wider society. The exhibition highlights contemporary public responses to current issues, political movements, mental health, gender pay gap, feminism, climate change etc. With physical objects, visual and audio pieces, the exhibition aims to engage and provoke a dialogue and meditation with the visitor.

The exhibition features historical prison artefacts and artworks by local artists. Among the artefacts are; a ball and chain, a blunderbuss, body belts, prison doors and straitjackets. The artefacts give a sense of the size, weight and toughness of the materials to provoke a visceral reaction in the viewer and give examples of methods used to restrain and constrain people in the historic prison system. The exhibition gives an artistic interpretation of these themes by presenting lots of different interpretations, voices and perspectives in the space.

The exhibition involves the work of several artists including; Liz Atkin, Lisa Selby and Elliot Murawski, her partner. Atkin’s work consists of three large charcoal drawings based on textures on the prison doors in the exhibit. She has struggled with anxiety and mental health issues, and often feels the compulsion to draw in order to overcome the constraints of these problems. Her work responds to her environment and these inner feelings, so makes strong connections to the exhibition.

Lisa and Elliot have presented rubbings from the prison walls that Elliot was incarcerated in for a time. The artists aim to communicate their story to the viewer and as a result this direct experience engages on a very close, intimate level.

Among the artefacts, the most potentially shocking and thought provoking are the Swallowed Objects. These are items that had been swallowed by inmates and people who, for numerous reasons, decided to ingest the objects. The presentation of these objects is about showing the extremity of the person’s situation and their frame of mind to have swallowed them – some objects are so large it is hard to believe they could have been swallowed. The Swallowed Objects have a powerful effect on the viewer

This exhibition also includes artworks by the textile artist Ruth Singer. This is a part of a presentation called ‘Criminal Histories’, an art and archives project, crafted and researched by Singer in partnership with Staffordshire Record Office and a team of volunteers. The artworks combine photographs taken between 1877 and 1915 into textile artworks, creating skilful patchworks that bring the long forgotten lives of female inmates into the 21st century. It is currently on display in the old prison cell rooms.

Constraint Restraint will also feature several smaller changing exhibitions by Fine Art students from Nottingham College which respond to the themes of the main exhibition with sculptural works and other visual pieces in thoughtful and interesting ways.

This exhibition is situated in the museum’s free exhibition area.

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