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Postcards from prison

Author: Erika
In 2014 Erika was sentenced to 6 years for breaking the law for which she served 3 years in custody. She wanted to document her experience for posterity; the way that she chose to do this was to produce an epic visual Postcard Diary that consists of at least 1400 drawings, one drawing every day from 3 months into her 6 months on bail prior to sentencing, during the whole period of her 3 year incarceration and also following her release.
This visual diary gives a unique insight into the emotional and physical aspects of her journey through being on bail and then her time firstly in HMP Holloway and then in HMP Send. Of Particular interest is the fact that her time at HMP Holloway spanned the historic announcement by the Government that the prison would be closed and the site redeveloped into housing stock, meaning that there would no longer be a Women’s Prison in Central London. This whole period is documented through Erika’s Postcard Diary Drawings.
“The drawings at first were an expression of the feelings that I was going through. It was a very traumatic period laced with fear and uncertainty as to what lay ahead. I had never been in trouble with the law before, and was now facing a period of my life away from family and friends in an alien world with people I don’t know. Also having to try and pack up your whole life into a form of suspended animation for an unknown period is really difficult. I wanted to show the rollercoaster of emotions that I went through in my daily life as I approached the ‘Day of Doom’ when I would attend Crown court and be shipped off to prison in the Serco van or ‘Sweat Box’ as it is known as!”
Once in prison, the cards became a way of documenting more the experiences and surroundings that she found herself in.
“Based on the notion that a picture can say a thousand words, I wanted the drawings give an insight into a world that few ever get to see, not a glorification, but an honest personal experience. They document my struggles, hurdles and achievements. I hope that within the drawings, the stories and issues raised during my encounters provide a basis for debate and raise awareness of issues that surround the prison system as a whole. I would hope that my story will not only act as a deterrent to others who find themselves in a similar situation, but to try and show how to make the best out of any bad situation that anyone may find themselves in.”
Apart from the Gym, Art was the main saving grace that Erika used to make the most of her time, producing collages, drawings, painting and ceramic pieces.

Postcards from prison from Open College of the Arts on Vimeo.
Erika has won many Koestler Trust Awards for her Artwork and is proud to have some pieces exhibited at their annual show at the South Bank Centre. The Koestler Trust runs an annual Award Scheme that is open to anyone serving a sentence in a secure establishment or secure hospital as well as anyone who is still serving their sentence on licence in the community. Koestler invites entries across a wide range of disciplines visual and non-visual and receives over 7000 entries every year. A selection of this year’s work curated by Sir Antony Gormley is shown at the South Bank Royal Festival Hall from 20 September 2017 to mid-November 2017. The Koestler Trust also shows work at various other exhibitions and regional shows across the country.
Erika is studying towards a BA (Hons) Painting degree with the OCA, she recently completed the Practice of Painting course unit.
“The fact that I was able to pursue a painting degree whilst I was in prison was a real life saver. There were some difficulties that I encountered as the course would ask me to paint scenes that I found it difficult to access, however this did make for some interesting and creative solutions as you seek detail from your immediate surroundings. Sometimes the stark blandness of the prison environment can actually turn out to be fascinating subject matter. Developing a relationship with my tutor was also really important, applying their comments and feedback to the next section of the course always challenging, but rewarding as strove to improve and explore my work. I was lucky to have been granted permission to purchase some decent art materials, however, even that was a challenge in it’s self. But all these challenges provided me with drive and determination that I am really grateful to the OCA for providing me with the opportunity to pursue something that I both enjoy and am passionate about.”
Some of the pieces she has won awards for were completed on her course.

In order to enable the viewer to experience this journey through Erika’s eyes the daily drawings are being published on her Facebook page, Facebook group and Instagram. You can also follow Erika on Twitter @ErikaPostcards, however as Twitter has a limited text field, the story will be less detailed.
You can buy Limited Edition Signed Prints of individual postcards of your choice by visiting Recorded in Art Store.
Recorded in art was set up to support Erika’s work and is dedicated to showcasing art that documents stories, news, events, journeys and random ideas in pictorial form.

Posted by author: Erika

10 thoughts on “Postcards from prison

  • Brilliant. I’m delighted to read about and see this work.
    Proof, if it were needed, that creativity is not predicated on a lack of restriction 9I almost wrote ‘freedom’, bit that seemed a bit too close for comfort). What I mean is that, in my experience, good work (and good learning) is more likely to emerge from negotiating with difficulty than having unlimited time / budget / equipment / space / talent.
    Congratulations on getting the work shown so widely, too.

  • Wonderfully varied art work and, yes, demonstrating how creativity can flourish despite difficult circumstances.
    The Lightbox Gallery/Museum in Woking is currently showing work by members of the Women’s Support Centre, open to all women in Surrey prisons or those in contact with the Criminal Justice System. I’m wondering now if Erika has previously had work shown in those yearly Exhibitions. I’ll certainly visit the Southbank Centre as well to view the Kooestler Trust Exhibition.
    Congratulations on creating such wonderful art Erika.I’m looking forward to following you on Instagram

  • I saw the exhibition and heard the presentations yesterday afternoon & I was so inspired by how the artists were able to transcend their situations and express themselves in so many different & exciting ways. The songs and poetry were terrific and the mixed media sculpture Smeagol’s Brother is so brave and defiant. I loved Erika’s ‘Play Time’ because of all the witty detail, and the postcards which were such novel way of not only passing the time but also of documenting her experience as it happened. There are 250 items in the exhibition, too many to take in in an afternoon & I wish I lived nearer so that I can visit it again. Great experience. Some of the stewards are ex-prisoners so it was great to talk to them too. The talk I felt was most informative was that of the Festival Hall’s representative – how, in Iceland, the person who has been sentenced is asked when it is convenient for him/her to go to prison. How enlightened!

    • I am really pleased you enjoyed the exhibition and that my work spoke to you. Being able to produce art within the criminal Justice system is medative, cathartic and confidence building allat the same time. It is also a real honour to have the opportunity to exhibit at the South Bank Centre. The show is on until 15th Novenmber, I hope as many people as possible get the chance to visit it.

      • Your work features in my Photography Level 3 Contextual Studies essay which looks at UK prisons and prisoner identity and I was very pleased indeed to have your permission to use it. It comes in chapter 2, under the heading “Do we ever see the ‘self’ in prisoners? The self refers not only to the prisoners themselves but it also refers to ourselves = do we ever see ourselves in prisoners?

  • Dear Erika, I was absolutely delighted to view your work. You are a bright soul and I am sure that somehow you talent will be rewarded in many ways as it has started already.
    Keep creating, your art bring joys to many viewers.

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