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The Torch CEO, Kent Morris Chats About 'Confined' Exhibition

350 stunning artworks by 320 Indigenous artists currently in or recently released from prisons in Victoria.

“When I paint, all my problems go away, I lose myself in my art” Leroy McLaughlin, Yorta Yorta people.

Presented by The Torch, Confined is an annual exhibition of works from Indigenous artists currently in or recently released from prison. For the first time it will be at the Glen Eira Town Hall Gallery, from 13 May to 6 June, to accommodate the ever-increasing number of artists and artworks. Confined 12 can also be viewed online at The Torch website via a scrolling mosaic and a 3D virtual tour.

Kent Morris is The Torch CEO. A Barkindji man living on Yalukut Weelam Country in Melbourne, Kent has many years’ experience as a practicing artist and curator and is an alumnus of the National Gallery of Australia's Indigenous Arts Leadership Program.

With a record 350 artworks from 320 artists from 16 correctional facilities across Victoria, this collection of works is a strong visual metaphor for the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system.

"The mass incarceration of First nations Australians is a national disgrace. Fortunately, organisations such as The Torch, show that Indigenous led and delivered solutions to some of the ongoing issues caused by systemic over incarceration can be addressed successfully if driven by the Indigenous community,” said Kent Morris, CEO The Torch.

This year's exhibition includes an extraordinary range of paintings and three-dimensional artworks including a 2.2m high culturally carved wooden post and lintel construction and Brancusi like vertical sculptures, woven baskets, bush dyed silk scarves, decorative ceramic homewares, a model motorbike made from matchsticks and coffee stirrers, an array of shields, boomerangs, clapsticks and painted yidaki's.

All works will be available for purchase from the gallery and online with 100% of the sales going to the artist. For participants, the creation and sale of their artworks is part of the rehabilitation process that helps build confidence, social capital, economic stability and pathways to reconnect with the community.

2021 marks 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its historic reporting, with over three hundred recommendations to end Black deaths in custody. In the 10 years The Torch program has been running, several participants have died in custody including a cousin of The Torch’s CEO Kent Morris.

“Three decades later, Australian governments have failed to implement the majority of these recommendations and First Nations peoples are dying in custody at horrendous rates, with over 470 lives lost in the last 30 years. In 2021 alone, seven First Nations people have died since March.

Indigenous communities are driven to provide sustainable, culturally appropriate and connecting solutions to the dire impacts of the over incarceration of our people because it affects us deeply in so many ways, on so many levels”, says Morris.

The knowledge and experiences of Community Elders and those participating in The Torch program continues to define the program’s design and delivery. The employment of men and women from the program to work on all aspects, including going back into prison to support others, has been significant to its ongoing success. The organisation now employs 18 permanent staff, 12 are Aboriginal men and women - five of whom have transitioned through the in-prison and in-community programs to now work at The Torch.

In 2016, the Victorian government developed the Aboriginal Art Policy Model allowing Indigenous men and women in the program to sell their artworks while still in custody. Under the policy, a major percentage of the money received from the sale and licensing of artworks is held in Trust by the Department of Corrections until the participant is released from prison.

Individual requests from in-prison participants can be made to release money for specific approved purposes such as supporting children’s education costs, funeral expenses and supporting family members looking after the children of those incarcerated.

Since 2016, The Torch has sold and licensed over $1,500,000 worth of artworks for participants, alleviating some of the financial disadvantage and barriers faced whilst in and when exiting the prison system. Additional post release economic participation and skills development has also been provided in the form of mural painting, media events, artwork commissions, speaking and workshop engagements, as well as ongoing and casual employment with The Torch.

By embracing program participants as artists rather than offenders, The Torch provides an avenue to change.

The Torch is very pleased to welcome new Board members Aunty Pam Pederson OAM and Nova Peris OAM OLY MAICD. Gunditjmara Elder, Jim Berg, who has worked in the justice space for over 50 years and been an inspiration and ongoing supporter of the program has become The Torch’s inaugural patron.

ARTISTS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW INCLUDE: Christopher Austin is a Keerraaywoorrong man from the Gunditjmara Nation of south western Victoria. He is immensely proud of his culture and sharing stories as an artist, enabling him to break free from his 37-year cycle of incarceration. His story of resilience and strength is inspiring. Engaged in the program for over 4 years, Chris is now employed by The Torch as an Indigenous Arts Mentor, going back into prisons to support current Indigenous inmates with their journey and mentoring post release participants as they reintegrate into the community.

Felicity Chafer-Smith is a young Ngarrindjeri woman from South Australia currently studying for a Bachelor of Business at Swinburne University. Felicity was introduced to The Torch program during a term of imprisonment at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, where she found it difficult to be away from her family and used painting as a way to positively connect with them. Felicity has made several successful sales with The Torch and describes feelings of validation and pride in being able to share her culture with others. Upon release and reintegration, she has begun working as the Accounts and Operations Assistant with The Torch.

Leroy McLaughlin is a Yorta Yorta artist from Echuca who first joined The Torch program in 2014 and his now employed by The Torch as a part-time Art Support Assistant. His remarkable and resilient journey from incarceration to employment involved years of homelessness, living and painting in a tent throughout Melbourne's inner suburbs, drawing on footpaths and a stint as the artist in residence at Chapter House Funerals painting Koori designs on coffins. In 2017 his work was exhibited at Museum Victoria, his 2018 artwork Dingo was selected as the first limited edition artist print released by The Torch and in 2019 he was awarded the St Kilda Art Supplies Award.

Thomas ‘Marksey’ Marks is a Gunaikurnai man from Gippsland. One of the Stolen Generation, Thomas is now proudly reclaiming his Aboriginal identity through art. Thomas joined the program in 2018 at Ravenhall Correctional Centre. His unique work has won two NAIDOC Awards and he is one of five shortlisted First Nations artists for the Stolen Generations Marker public artwork commission through Hume City Council; one of six First Nations artists selected for the Rising Festival Art Trams and was recently commissioned to create a work for the Horsham Magistrates Court, which formed the design for his Rising Festival Art Tram.

EVENT DETAILS: CONFINED 12 Dates: Thursday 13 May – Sunday June 6 2021 Venue: Glen Eira City Council Gallery Gallery: Monday to Saturday, 1pm to 5pm; Sunday, 10am to 5pm Online: Launch: The Torch (13th May, 6pm


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