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Spike Island launches a new exhibition of artwork created by prisoners at Cork Prison

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Spike Island recently launched a new exhibition of artwork titled ‘Story’, created by prisoners in association with the Education Unit at Cork Prison. This exhibition is a continuation of the on-going collaboration between Spike Island and Cork Prison and is a much-anticipated event on the island’s calendar each year.

Story’ is an exhibition reflecting on memory and circumstance and each artwork features a personal narrative reminiscing on anecdotes and memoirs. The work extends from the ghostlike anonymity of portraits symbolizing invisibility and absence of identity, to the haunting inner monologue caught in a cycle of repetition and the effort to untangle.

The artworks – which are on display inside the original 1985 cells on Spike Island – depict varying accounts of incarceration from one seminal event, consumed with rebellion that influenced a lifetime of crime, to the childhood memories that form a conduit for escapism channelling the imagination into a brighter world. ‘Story’ is an intriguing selection of work curated by the Education Unit in Cork Prison designed to give agency to the student’s narrative through memory and reflection.

Education is collaboratively delivered in Irish Prisons through the Irish Prison Service and the Education and Training Boards. Constructed in 1983, the purpose built education unit at Cork Prison, contains specialist art, woodwork, and home economics classrooms aimed at facilitating prisoners to achieve their full potential as learners. Art is an integral part of the Unit and the artworks displayed in the Spike Island cells are an amalgamation of paintings, drawings, ceramics, pyrography and woodwork. Some of the work is of a personal nature while others were undertaken as part of group projects.

Having been home to a prison four times over four centuries, the ongoing association between the Education Unit and Spike Island is one which is incredibly significant. At the launch of the new exhibition, Island Manager John Crotty said;

“We are delighted to keep this long association going and fully recognise the benefits exhibitions like this bring.  The efforts of the Prison Service at prisoner reform are exemplary, and by having events like this that showcase the prisoners work, and bring a sense of pride and belonging, the process of reform is much more likely to succeed.  It was wonderful to see some of the families of the prisoners present at the opening, to view the work of their parent, which becomes a source of pride and a topic of conversation for them.  The works also offer our visitors an insight into the minds of the prisoners, and we can all learn something about wider society from the experiences that led them to this place.  We look forward to a long lasting relationship that benefits the artists, our visitors and society as a whole”.

The Education Unit has been exhibiting on Spike Island on an annual basis since 2012, with some students having been incarcerated on the island in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. In 2018, a striking stained-glass window was produced in Cork Prison with the support of The Arts Council of Ireland’s Artist in Prison scheme and was and was presented to Spike Island where it is on permanent display.



Story, an exhibition telling the stories of prisoners, runs until September 2022. For more information, see https://www.spikeislandcork.ie/exhibition-story/

Boats depart for Spike Island daily from Kennedy Pier, Cobh and tickets are available from www.spikeislandcork.ie or 021-2373455

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