Justice-Impacted Individuals Display Artwork At Milwaukee Exhibit “Art Against The Odds”

Art is a Human Need

Throughout history, art was made to seem like it was only meant for the elitist but times are slowly changing. Two years ago, the Milwaukee nonprofit Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art (PSG) wanted to give a voice and visibility to individuals currently held in Wisconsin’s prison system. As self-taught artists, justice-impacted individuals created art from minimal materials, such as food wrappers.

Back to the present day and over 60 justice-impacted artists have their work displayed at the “Art Against The Odds: Wisconsin Prison Art exhibit” at MIAD in Milwaukee. The free exhibit runs from January 16, 2023 – March 11, 2023.

“As this show clearly illustrates, arts is a human need,” said PSG Director Debra Brehmer.

Helping Make Artists Feel Welcomed & Accepted

Brehmer is a life-long lover of art and makes it her mission to ensure people who don’t usually feel welcomed or accepted into the art world have a platform to be seen. She hopes when people see the exhibit they have a newfound sense of caring for those with a criminal background.

Portrait of a Prisoner: Fernando Torres, Disposable Series, 2021, collage: snack food wrappers on Bristol, 10 1/4 x 8 inches.
Portrait of a Prisoner: Fernando Torres, Disposable Series, 2021, collage: snack food wrappers on Bristol, 10 1/4 x 8 inches. (Art by Dominic Marak)

Against The Odds

The Art Against The Odds exhibit has over 200 pieces of artwork making it the largest show PSG has put on. According to a press release, this is the first museum-scaled exhibition of artwork by currently or formerly incarcerated Wisconsin artists.

Exploring Themes of Solitary Confinement, Scarcity of Materials, and more

The exhibition is divided into six sections: solitary confinement, landscapes, portraits, letter writing, scarcity of materials, and time/seriality. There are also two cell-sized room installations. There is an audio script in one of the cells featuring war veterans and actors reading excerpts of hundreds of displayed letters written during the two years of preparation for the exhibit. A 187-page catalog also accompanies the show.

“The work is so beautiful,” said Brehmer. “You leave here feeling the strength of the human experience. These people are surviving…and they’re making…these hopeful works of art.”

Nyesha Stone founded Carvd N Stone in 2017 to cover positive news while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Stone has a B.A. in Journalism. She has raised over $30,000 to award grants and scholarships. She has also been featured in ESSENCE and worked with the American Black Film Festival.

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