Discussion topic: Art and Prison

“How art and prison let us understand life’s complexities Prison”, by James Krims

“Jesse Krimes is a nonviolent drug offender who unwittingly became a spokesperson for the mass incarcerated prisoners we cannot see, choose not to see, and see inaccurately. Jesse brings to light the cracks of the prison system and the “purgatory” that inmates can experience in the penitentiary. He tells the story of how he used art to transcend the prison environment and share how prisoners experience the world. Creatively using the materials at his disposal, Jesse uncovers and reveals unfair societal norms. No one is simply good or bad; everyone is complex. In this talk, Jesse challenges how we see ourselves and interact with others.”

“Jesse Krimes is a visual artist who was indicted by the United States government, labeled a “drug kingpin,” and sentenced to a 70-month prison term. While incarcerated, Mr. Krimes established prison drawing, painting, and independent study art programs and worked collaboratively with his fellow inmates, in addition to maintaining an active independent studio practice. Krimes used art as a means to transcend and psychologically escape his confinement, including a 30’ x 15’ foot mural, which was digitally reproduced and used to cover the walls of a cell at Eastern State Penitentiary for an art installation titled Apokaluptein:16389067. Krimes’ work seeks to challenge events and dogmas, creating paradoxes in perception and memory that alter future translations and understandings of “authenticity.”


Below is a TedTalk that will bring light to the complexity of art and its role in prison. As you watch the video please think about the 10 questions James brings to light while his incarceration. Then discuss some or all of the areas mentioned below.

Do you have any personal experience with someone who uses art as a means of expression while incarcerated that you would like to share with your classmates? 

  1. What does he consider as privileged?
  2. How does he think we can or can not effect change?
  3. Do you know anyone in prison who is an artist?
  4. Why did he start creating art?
  5. What do you think about his work titled “Purgatory”
  6. What did he accomplish using soap and playing cards as a medium to express his thoughts?
  7. As a none violent offender how did he end up in a maximum security prison?
  8. What do you feel about the images on bedsheet canvasses that created?
  9. What does he mean when he says “Modern Day Plantations”?
  10. What do you think of his work that includes live Betta fish?

Video link https://youtu.be/gqDIOeaV3T4

Below I have attached other videos concerning art in prisons for your information.

Prison Da Vinci No. 1: Painting With Skittles

Prison Da Vinci No. 1: Painting With Skittles


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