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The original item was published from 5/22/2023 9:09:00 AM to 6/7/2023 12:35:27 PM.

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Rahr West Art Museum

Posted on: April 26, 2023

[ARCHIVED] Art Against the Odds

M. Winston Houses, Art Against the Odds

Art Against the Odds, Wisconsin Prison Art Exhibition on exhibit June 4 – August 6, 2023

Developed by the Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this exhibit features the work of more than 60 artists who turned to creative production to mitigate the de-humanizing conditions of incarceration. 

Opening Reception

Sunday, June 4, 2023, 1:00—3:00 pm
Program begins at 2:00 pm
Join us for light refreshments and remarks with exhibit curators Debra  Brehmer and Paul Salsieder .

Guided Tours

Tours will be offered each Saturday of the exhibit at 1:00 pm with museum staff or special guests.  Find details at

About the Exhibit

Under development for two years by Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art in Milwaukee, WI., the exhibition gives voice and visibility to individuals currently held in the state’s carceral system as well as illustrates the potential healing properties of an art practice. With few instructional art programs offered in the prison system, these individuals teach themselves through various means, often working with limited materials. The exhibition explores how art becomes a vehicle to develop self-esteem, self-awareness, regulate emotions, and explore multi-faceted aspects of identity. The exhibition underscores the humanity of incarcerated individuals and their potential beyond criminal records.

 One artist, M. Winston, who is serving a 30-year-sentence, creates postage-sized abstract landscapes of places he imagines visiting. Dominic Marak, who died of cancer in prison in 2021, skillfully produced a “Mug Shot” series using collaged junk food wrappers. Artist Curtis Wilks created 150 paintings of Bible verses while incarcerated as a way to reconnect to his faith. Learning to paint by watching 1980s-1990's Bob Ross videos, several artists have produced detailed, idealized landscapes as antidotes to the conditions of the prison environment. The formerly incarcerated artist, John Tyson, found that repetitive mark making soothed his anxiety as he ritualistically made layered graphite and pen drawings. 

 The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. Currently, there are 2.3 million individuals in the criminal justice system. In Wisconsin there are 24,000 adults in state prisons, 2,200 in federal prisons, 13,000 in local jails, 20,000 on parole and 44,000 on probation — a total of 103,200 individuals. There are 36 adult correctional facilities in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has the nation’s highest national rate of incarceration among its Black population, more than double the national average. 

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