Art at the Maze and Long Kesh Prison

Art and craft classes were held at the Maze and Long Kesh Prison as part of educational programmes, some by the prison authorities and some by the prisoners themselves. Prisoners could gain qualifications in both GCSE and A Level Art, and formal courses in art history were also offered. In addition, arts and crafts were pursued at an informal level within the prison. Murals were painted on the walls of both the H-Blocks and the Nissen huts within the cages/ compounds. Handicrafts made in the prison could be sold on the ‘outside’, with proceeds going to prisoners’ families.

In 1996 the Prison Arts Foundation (PAF) was founded, with the aim of providing access to the arts for all prisoners, ex-prisoners, young offenders and ex-young offenders in Northern Ireland. During the latter years of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison, the PAF promoted access to the arts by organising professional artist residencies and workshops in the H-Blocks.

Security considerations placed constraints on materials permitted and the type of art and crafts that could be produced in the prison. For example, glass and ‘inflammable’ paint were not allowed. However, the availability of tools and materials varied across the site and over the years. And prisoners also improvised with materials to hand.

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Source
Article

Troubles Archive

Ó Muilleoir, M. (2009) The Art of War: A Troubles Archive Essay

Troubles Archive

Moloney, M. (2009) prison art: A Troubles Archive Essay

Troubles Archive

Hutchinson, B. (2009) Transcendental Art: A Troubles Archive Essay

Prison Arts Foundation

Ceardaiocht

Coiste, 2020. Irish Republican Prison Craft

Irish News

Geordie Morrow art exhibition at Ulster Museum recalls Maze prison in 1970s

Parallel Stories

A selection of clips from the archive exploring the theme from different perspectives.
There was a real kind of sense of frustration
Fionna

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Prisons Arts Foundation then invited lots of artists to come in. Really, really absolutely brilliant, brilliant thing to do.
Amanda

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Watch the clips of Fionna and Amanda. What were some of the challenges – and benefits – of teaching art at the Maze and Long Kesh Prison?

This magnificent thing here is a very expressive drawing
Brian

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Cell one on the wing was the handicrafts cell
William

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We were making harps and crosses
Michael

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Watch all of the clips. What were some of the benefits to prisoners of art and crafts at the Maze and Long Kesh Prison?

Links to NI Curriculum

CCEA GCSE History: Unit 1; Section B; Option 2: Changing Relations: Northern Ireland and its Neighbours, 1965–1998

Questions based on GCSE CEA history exam papers

01.
How useful are the clips of Fionna, Amanda and Brian for an historian studying the value of art education in the Maze and Long Kesh Prison? Explain your answer, using the clips and your contextual knowledge.

02.
How useful are the clips of Michael and William for an historian studying the value of art and crafts in the Maze and Long Kesh Prison? Explain your answer, using the clips and your contextual knowledge.

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Transcript

Fionna

That’s where it was, that kind of, yeah, that kind of space. And it’s all so very strange. I remember sitting in a room exactly the same as that, trying to teach somebody about the history of art. And what you do is, normally what I’d do is show is I’d be showing people slides of or projecting something on to the wall or something. So you’ve got these massive great full colour images. There you’ve got like a book of pictures and you’re just turning it over or whatever. And there was a real kind of sense of frustration about trying – you had to work really hard to try and get across, to communicate what it is that you were saying. And this I think was this sense of wanting to give something to somebody in this way, that they could have the same kind of experience as somebody on the outside world.

Transcript

Amanda

Prisons Arts Foundation then invited lots of artists to come in. Really, really absolutely brilliant, brilliant thing to do. They invited lots of contemporary artists: painters, video-makers, writers come in – photographers, everything – and they’d give like a talk about their work and show the men. And you’d just have, you know, and the men who were interested, and actually quite a lot would go to these, you know, you’d have 25 men or whatever sitting and they’d see the work and then you know  there’d be a discussion afterwards about the relevance of the work or there’d be, och just mad discussions actually. Really interesting stuff. And that’s just artists being artists, coming in and showing individuals from a completely different area in life another way to live your life or another way to experience life and to talk about life. Very, very, very beneficial. And I would escort these artists to the different blocks, and introduce them to the OCs and the COs and to the men and be with them and…one occasion – more than one occasion – there were some situations where, especially one artist friend of mine was made to feel uncomfortable but that’s because she was being tested and afterwards she said ‘I’m not going in there again, I felt very uncomfortable’. But he was trying to make her feel uncomfortable. And, you know, some people I understand could not have worked with the men.

Transcript

Brian

“formal studies like this, you know, an oil pastel drawing of a collection of items, could be done in any school, anywhere. And then this magnificent thing here is a very expressive drawing which indicates a trapped individual. Then imaginative still life. This is… they strike me as being the remains of a formal art class. You know, like this is the study of basic design. I’m quite sure these were related to an exam process.”

Transcript

William

Cell one on the wing was the handicrafts cell. That’s where we done all the handicrafts. We done our jewellery boxes and churches and stuff like that there, you know. And then, maybe three months coming up to Christmas we would have got a, we’d have got ten pound each prisoner, would have got a load of stuff all made up and then sent it all out and our people, our families on the outside would have sold it. And that created an amount of money for the prisoners at Christmas so that they could give it to their families.

Transcript

Michael

After the blanket protest and we became ‘conforming prisoners’, they used to take you out of each wing and you’d have went out there for classes, be it the Irish language, history or whatever. And they used to have very old fashioned school type of desks. And they also had handicrafts available in the wing, we were making harps and crosses and stuff. But I, I mean sometimes wood was very scarce. And what we used to do, we used to unscrew the tops of the jail tables and then when the classes were over you had a big pile of books and you’d have put the prison table top between the books and walk past the screw and then the screws would come out to check and…