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Freedom Arts Show – An Exhibition of Prison Art Arrives in the Southbank

Freedom Arts Show – An Exhibition of Prison Art Arrives in the Southbank

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An art show dedicated to showing the art of people stuck in the penal system as curated by Ai Wei Wei is coming to the Southbank. Here’s everything you need to know.

So here’s one that should definitely be on your radar. 

The Southbank Centre is hosting an exhibition to give a voice to people who’ve had theirs restricted by the state. 

That means people in prisons, secure mental health facilities, immigration removal centres, young offender institutions and on community sentences across the UK.

And this year Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei will be curating it. 

Not the only big news relating to this event. It’s also the 15th annual iteration of the show, and the 60th anniversary of the Koestler Awards. 

Koestler, in case you didn’t know, is the UK’s foremost prison arts charity. Their work helps people without much, or any, way to express themselves find a way to do so through art. 

This exhibition is a showing of some of that important work they’ve been doing. And it sounds pretty impressive.

What to Expect 

22K4758 - cell B prof

The exhibition, which runs from the 27th of October to the 18th of December, will display works by nearly 3000 prisoners from around the country. 

The space itself has been divided up into rooms of 1.8m by 3m – roughly the same size as your typical UK prison cell. 

Each cell has art on its walls, with some cells displaying over a hundred pieces. The least any cell has is 78.

The work is bare bones stuff – of course it is, prisoners don’t have much to work with – there’s sculptures made out of matchsticks, prison bed sheets used as canvases.

There’s even a portrait made with marmite. 

None of the work is framed as it’s displayed how it comes. And alongside painting and drawing there’s also calligraphy, graphic design, hairstyling and needlecraft.

There’s a lot to see and so Koestler has enlisted the help of some ex-prison inmates to guide you through the show. 

22K5950 - area 4 prof

When you’re inside the cell spaces you’ll hear quotes from displayed artists played out loud.

They’re all read by people currently involved in Koestler Arts’ Mentorship Scheme where artists, now in the community, are paired with a mentor to help develop their practice.

It’s designed to replicate the unexpected sounds caught between the comings and goings of prison life. The shouting of a guard through a cell door. The passing of a message through another. 

We hate to use every exhibitions favourite word at the moment: immersive. But that’s what it really is. 

Koestler Arts Freedom Exhibition: Practical Tips 


Koestler Arts Freedom Exhibition runs from the 27th of October to the 18th of December 2022.


The Southbank Centre. 


No tickets or booking required unless you’re going as a large group. 

If you are that large group, or want to get in touch to find out what sized group counts as large email ahead here:

Koestler Arts Freedom Exhibition: Map 

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