On June 23, 2023, the Berlin-based Art and Prison e.V. association, coordinated by Deacon Heinz-Peter Echtermeyer, will open a permanent exhibition of prison art entitled, Scoprire la luce della libertà. Immagini dalla prigionia [Discovering the Light of Freedom] in the Ex Stabilimento Florio delle Tonnare in Favignana, Sicily. The exhibition includes images of imprisonment, and for the occasion, the location will host Massimo Osanna, the director general of the Museums of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities. The exhibition has received the patronage of Crown Princess Sophie von und zu Liechtenstein. The works of art to be exhibited were selected from those already submitted as part of an international art competition that Art and Prison e.V. organizes for prisoners. In fact, many of the pieces on show from an entire collection consisting of 2,500 paintings from five continents have already been shown in more than 30 exhibitions throughout Europe.
The idea of giving these works a home on the beautiful island of Sicily, while giving voice and visibility to the people who created them, was supported by the mayor of Favignana, Francesco Forgione and Monica Modica. At the heart of Art and Prison e.V.'s project, which won a “Justice and Peace” award from the San Matteo Foundation, is human dignity. This organisation has believed in and supported the direct involvement of prisoners in solidarity and charity projects since its inception in 2009. Deacon Echtermeyer has been involved in supporting prisoners for 30 years and works with curator Cornelia Schmidt-Harmel together with Ingrid Reimold, Gabriela Lademacher and Francesco Casale. The Severino Onlus Foundation and the Centro di Formazione alla Meditazione Cristiana [Christian Meditation Training Center], CFMC Rome, have offered a significant contribution to the initiative.
Thanks to the mediation of the Severino Foundation, Italy participated in the Art and Prison e.V. competition with works created by inmates at the Rebibbia Prison. Among the Foundation's most recent activities is a memorandum of understanding with Manpower for the social and labor reintegration of prisoners and inmates with a view to contributing to the reduction of the recidivism rate. In addition, there is the activation in various prisons in Lazio of counselling desks that offer support to inmates on social and welfare matters.
The Christian Meditation Training Centre, founded by Sister Marisa Bisi F.D.C. as a School of Silence inspired by Ignatian spirituality, is a service for the integral formation of the person through Christian meditation. The Centre offers meetings in silence with works of contemporary art sometimes created by prisoners. Eight years ago the Formation Centre started silence courses in prisons. University students also attend the Training Centre to train their gaze on the whole. Romano Guardini’s Weltanschauung, inspired by Michelangelo’s gaze, this Triple Gaze and its transdisciplinary nature was the theme of the five days of online studies in 2022 at the Alberto Hurtado Centre for Faith and Culture of the Gregorian, which was carried out each day at a different university. Guardini studies are considered a valid perspective for understanding contemporary crises, the theme of the three-year Understanding the Signs of the Times project conducted by the McLean Center at the Catholic University of Washington in collaboration with the University of Erfurt and the Gregorian.
Second, the School of Weltanschauung, which belongs to the newly-established Guardini Centre in Bagnoregio, has started a cycle on the Threefold Seeing of Prison Art founded after a meeting with prisoner-artists at the prison, designed to educate the way of seeing the world on the margins of society. Mind-Heart-Hands, says Pope Francis, a Trinity Learning. The Favignana event will conclude on 24 June with a seminar designed by the students and doctoral students participating in the cycle.
Art thus becomes a form of social responsibility while becoming a common denominator between the different projects. The main concern with the challenges posed by the human condition remains the development of an art-knowledge centered on the possibility of an authentic encounter of the people behind the works and beyond the prejudices that still prevail in society.
by YVONNE DOHNA SCHLOBITTEN