One hundred and nineteen Indigenous artists living inside Victorian prisons will see their artworks displayed and sold in an exhibition presented by Victorian Indigenous arts in prison and community program, The Torch.

Running since 2011, the program is centred around the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement and focuses on the importance of culture and cultural identity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during rehabilitation.

Future Dreaming … visions of the future will bring the voices of inmates to the public through art and artistic expression. It is a virtual exhibition on display from October 29 to December 31.

The exhibition artists are remanded across 14 prisons in Victoria and are participants in The Torch’s program. They have portrayed their hopes for the future on small, 30cm by 30cm canvases.

Gunai/Kurnai artist Jaye is exhibiting his work, Coming Together, which features the blue wren.

“Being away from all my family hurts. But when I paint the blue wren it makes me think about the future when we will all be back together,” he said.

“Dreaming about the day all our paths bring us back together on our Country.”

Barkindji man and The Torch CEO Kent Morris said whilst COVID provided some difficulty for the organisation, they were still committed to the participants.

“We had to think about how we make something not only for the men and women in the program but for those in community too,” he said.

“At that stage we didn’t have much contact with people in the program, they were cut off from us and even more cut off from family and community.”

Broken Australia, Artwork by Triston. Photo supplied by The Torch.

Future Dreaming presents a strong sense of connection despite being created in a time of isolation.

“There’s that acknowledgement of missing that connection to community, Country and family. There’s the notion of needing change and Reconciliation, for truth-telling and for everyone to come together,” said Morris.

“There’s a really … positive feeling for the future where our culture is central and more integrated.”

Unlike other exhibitions during COVID-19, Future Dreaming shares an extra layer of isolation—isolation in incarceration.

“There’s that extra layer, particularly for Indigenous men and women [there] have been those ongoing concerns around connection to Country, culture and community. In this period, there’s an extra disconnection and worry if family members are okay,” said Morris.

Ngarrindjeri woman and ex-program participant, Felicity Chafer-Smith is now employed with The Torch. She said the exhibition enables reflection.

“COVID is giving people a lot of time to reflect and time out for themselves. A lot of people are putting that extra time into their art, it’s getting better and better,” she said.

Now working as The Torch’s Accounts and Operations Assistant, Chafer-Smith is completing her Bachelor of Business at Swinburne University.

“I started that while I was inside and I’ve done my first-year accounting units. I use that knowledge everyday now working with [The] Torch,” she said.

“I absolutely love it. It’s hands-down the best job I’ve ever had. I love feeling useful and being part of a team again.”

Covid Koala, Artwork by Ivo. Photo supplied by The Torch.

A soon-to-be-mother, Chafer-Smith was incarcerated at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. During her time inside she participated in The Torch’s program which introduced her to art.

“Art is a big part of my life. I tell a lot of stories through my art, of memories of when I was younger with my family,” she said.

“It’s cool to be able to do that and now share that with my child later on down the track.”

Future Dreaming will see 100 per cent of each artwork’s sales go to the creators.

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By Rachael Knowles