AGIR / ART OF WOMEN IN PRISON presents an array of interdisciplinary works created inside four different carceral institutions. For over two years, this community art initiative has involved approximately fifty criminalized women and eight professional multidisciplinary artists.
For the first time in Canada a wide range of artworks dealing with themes such as the criminalization of poverty have been created inside prison walls with the intention of being presented publicly as a means of opening a public dialogue. These artworks not only highlight the individual challenges these women have faced; they bring our attention to the systemic inequalities that maintain the distance between those who have and those who do not in our society and to how the poor are criminalized. The mutual and reciprocal engagement of the artists and the criminalized women differentiates this project from others on the international artistic scene. AGIR's point of view is different from that of other exhibitions on life in prison because the work comes directly from those women who are incarcerated and sends a message emergent from their own lived experience and cultural backgrounds.
AGIR aims to inspire a critical reflection about society's use of incarceration and a willingness to think about alternatives to prison. These artworks underscore the humanity of incarcerated women and acknowledges them in an artistic context – beyond a crime, a prison sentence or a set of stereotypes. The works question our choice as a society to finance prisons rather than to invest in services that are more sustainable and less expensive in the long term. To invite a critical reflection about these issues, the exhibition is accompanied by series of roundtable presentations and guided tours. AGIR encourages the public's participation and favours exchanges between artists, criminalized women and other citizens.
In the spring of 2007, the Société Elizabeth Fry du Québec (SEFQ) initiated a project aimed at using artistic creation as an instrument of individual and social change. The idea was to collaborate with incarcerated women – as well as with women who were in the process of social reintegration – on a co-creative project, which would encourage them to use their voices to communicate a more realistic portrait of women in conflict with the law.
Recognizing the need to work in concert with people experienced with community and activist art, the SEFQ invited Engrenage Noir / LEVIER to the table. This partnership was cemented under the form of a community art project called Agir par l'imaginaire. For two full years this project travelled between four different areas of production including Maison Tanguay, the provincial prison for women; Joliette Institution, the federal penitentiary for women; the Philippe-Pinel Institute; and Maison Thérèse-Casgrain, a halfway house. Between the preoccupations of the SEFQ concerning the criminalization of women and those of LEVIER around social inequalities the main theme of the project became articulated as the exploration of the links between poverty and incarceration. In other words, the art co-created within the framework of Agir par l'imaginaire explores how different forms of economic, social and cultural poverty – amongst others – cause women to commit crimes and how incarceration accentuates and exacerbates their situation of poverty.
La sociÉTÉ Elizabeth Fry du quÉbec
Founded in 1977, the Société Elizabeth Fry du Québec (SEFQ) is a community organization whose mandate is twofold: SEFQ supports women in conflict with the law while raising public awareness about these women's realities so that they can actively participate in the cultural and economic development of our society.
noir / levier
Engrenage Noir / LEVIER is a non-profit organization founded in 2001 whose mandate includes community & activist art advocacy and funding for co-creative projects that address the systemic causes of poverty while affirming the diversity of ecosystems, human rights, and ethical responsibility.