Art pieces by men behind bars inspire at downtown Fresno exhibit

M Street Art Complex hosts “Insider Art: Exploring the Arts within Prison Environments” at Art Hop on April 5, 2017 (Eric Zamora/The Collegian)

Among the many galleries featured during ArtHop last Thursday, one had a unique tie to Fresno State – and prisoners.

“Insider Art: Exploring the Arts within Prison Environments” held its opening night at the M Street Art Complex in downtown Fresno. The works are created by inmates at Avenal State Prison. They range from pencil sketches to poetry and sheet music.

Among the works is a sculpture created by Arnold Trevino, a post-graduate social work student at Fresno State, who once was held in the prison.

“I never imagined [my work] would be displayed,” he said.

Trevino’s work is a sculpture he created during his time at the state prison. He explained on April 4 during a panel discussion in the Alice Peters Auditorium that it was created using the prison’s materials.

Led by Fresno State criminology professor and chair Emma Hughes, the panel focused on the fine art programs in place at the prison and how they have benefited the incarcerated men.

Rosemary Ndoh, warden of the prison, and Doug Snell, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation lieutenant, discussed the impact the arts have had on the well-being of the inmates.

“The simple answer is that [these programs] work,” Snell said. “And there are thousands [of inmates] that really don’t need to be there. There [are] many people like Arnold that don’t need to be there anymore.”

Snell explained that he has seen a positive behavior change in the inmates at the state prison who join the arts programs. Trevino is a proven example as he is now a graduate student at Fresno State.

Trevino’s sculpture is a miniature recreation of a jail cell created with materials such as rocks and toilet paper. It sits alongside works such as a tank top decorated solely with a ballpoint pen and a variety of paintings.

The exhibit takes up four rooms of the downtown Fresno art gallery.

One room is dedicated to a video featuring inmates discussing their experiences working in theater productions.

Another exhibit shows photos taken by Fresno State photography professor Neil Chowdhury of inmates working on their art. The other rooms featured paintings and sculptural works by inmates.

One of the largest works was in the hallway connecting all of the rooms. It’s a 38 inch by 72 inch sketch titled “Before, After and Now,” done on waxed paper by N. Moran. It is reminiscent of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch.

The oil painting by Bosch dates back to the late 1400s to early 1500s, and features three panels depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, humanity in a garden landscape and hell with humanity in it.

The work by Moran featured in the exhibit has a similar composition and style.

During the opening day of the exhibit, the gallery was packed full of people viewing and appreciating the art.

“My father has been in and out of prison, and he’s always sent me artwork, so I know that in prison they have a lot of good artists,” said David Paredes, a senior political science major at Fresno State. “So just to see an exhibit here is really nice.”

M Street Graduate Studios will feature “Insider Art: Exploring Arts within Prison Environments” until April 22. The gallery’s hours are on Friday and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

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