Art behind bars

FANCY an exclusive peek at some of the x-rated art drawn by convicts and prisoners on their cell walls in Fremantle gaol?

As part of Fremantle Heritage Week, the prison is putting on a special art tour that will focus on the murals, artwork and graffiti left behind on cell and exercise yard walls.

The tour includes everything from languid landscapes to pieces featuring extreme profanity and nudity that are not normally shown to the public.

Assistant curator Eleanor Lambert says some of the guerilla artwork dates back to 1854.

“In May 1852 James Walsh, aged 21, was sentenced to fifteen years transportation for the crime of forgery,” she says.

• Some of the art on Fremantle Prison’s walls is colourful and joyful. Some is a bit more risque…

“Walsh served two separate sentences at the Convict Establishment and his cell at Fremantle Prison is covered in sketches, which date between 1854-1863.

“Though very little is known about him, the standard of his artwork has earned him a place in the Dictionary of Australian Artists.”

Art eventually became part of the prison’s educational program in the years preceeding its closure in 1991.

The first art teachers were employed at the gaol in 1978 and more than 2000 students enrolled within the first five years.

Initially the classes were only for Aboriginal prisoners, but as their popularity grew they were made available to other inmates.

Ms Lambert says that in addition to the guerilla artwork on cell and exercise yard walls, the prison has over 500 “moveable” artworks by prisoners in its official collection, with most pieces created between 1978 and 1991.

The Fremantle Prison art tour is on Saturday May 19 and June 2.

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