Special new art for the NSWNMA

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Last year’s NSWNMA Christmas event was special – it saw the official launch of the wonderful artworks commissioned by the Association from the Boom Gate Gallery, which works with artists who are inmates at Long Bay Correctional Centre. Dancers from the Jannawi Dance Clan made the event even more special.

Brett Holmes spoke on the night about how the art commission came about, while Jan Birmingham of the Boom Gate Gallery officially opened the paintings in the NSWNMA auditorium.

Brett Holmes: When the Association moved to this building [late 2010] we made a decision to honour the traditional owners, past and present, of the land on which this building sits, by giving our meeting rooms Aboriginal names.

We have called this auditorium the Gadigal Room. This room is where many large meetings are held – over 200 delegates representing workplaces from across NSW meet here every two months to discuss matters of concern to nurses and midwives.

The Jannawi Dance Clan help to celebrate the paintings in the Gadigal Auditorium.

In order to continue the Aboriginal theme in this room, we made the decision to purchase or commission a piece of artwork – but couldn’t seem to find a painting that was quite right for the room. Fortunately, one of our councillors, Gary Clarke, who works at the Forensic Hospital, told us about the Boom Gate Gallery at Long Bay Correctional Centre.

Jan Birmingham, the Coordinator of the Boom Gate Gallery, was the link between the artists and the gallery. I’d like to thank her for her guidance and assistance with this commission which resulted in this beautiful work you see above me tonight.



Three of the thematically-connected paintings. The art is displayed in a group of five but unfortunately we can’t display them like that here. See the other two paintings below.

And of course I would like to especially thank the talented artists who worked on this beautiful art piece. The artists are from the Special Purposes Prison – and are known by the names Archer, Pentium, Keke and Ngemba. Archer, as well as painting, oversaw the entire project. This included the research, working on the five smaller preliminary paintings (which now have pride of place in our boardroom) and the finished work.

We recently received this letter from one of the artists: ‘My name is Pentium and I am one of the artists involved with the commission of five artworks that have been hung in your auditorium.

Firstly I would like to take this opportunity thank you and your organisation for choosing us to create these artworks. I consider myself honoured and extremely privileged to have some of my art on display in a building such as yours. To me it is an accolade as an Aboriginal artist to have my art on display in a public domain. My art is an expression of myself and I take great pride in my work.

Due to this commission I feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement and I am more driven – not only as an artist – but as a person.’

Jan Birmingham: The Boom Gate Gallery at Long Bay Correctional Complex often gets individual commissions. But the commission from the NSW Nurse and Midwives’ Association was challenging because of the size of the works and the specific subject – the flora and fauna of the Waterloo area.

However, Lynne Ridge was a charming and encouraging contact with the Association. And the inmates took on the commission gamely and as you can see have triumphed.

The artists work under difficulties, often on the floor in poor light. Yet they manage to achieve these professional results. They are supported one day a week by Jim Croke, a very experienced sculptor and art teacher, and Allan Clark, the Senior Education Officer.

Let me tell you a little about the Long Bay Complex Art Program, which has only existed with the support of senior custodial staff both on the complex and at Head Office – most particularly Luke Grant, now Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Policy and Planning, Tracey Mannix, General Manager, and Kathy Dwyer, Administrator of the Metropolitan Special Programs Centre.

The program began in 1988 as a professional studio or atelier in a maximum security gaol. The Gallery was opened in 1992 and moved to larger premises, more accessible to the public, in 2011.

In the studio, 10 students a time, without custodial presence, were guided by a teacher to become professional artists after two years fulltime study. This process co-incidentally improved their literacy, numeracy and social skills. As well, considerable trust was invested in them. This was never abused, despite some inmates serving long sentences for very serious crimes.

The arts civilise incarceration and society as a whole but are painfully lacking in many Australian prisons and the present educational policies downgrade the humanities generally.

The studio closed at the beginning of 2013 for relocation and is still closed. Nevertheless, from time to time l get feedback about the influence it has had on lives. One ex-student came into the gallery to show me his new custom ute and told me he entered the art unit poorly educated and a with very bad criminal record. In the studio he learned geometry. He took this knowledge to open a business making frameless glass fencing for swimming pools. He said he was doing very well and attributed it all to the art program.

The Gallery opened in 1992 within the prison grounds to sell the works produced mainly from the studio but also from other gaols on the complex.

In 2010 it became more accessible to the public as it moved outside the boom gates. As it is at the entrance to the prison, it also acts as an information area and helps to direct and reassure the friends and relations of those recently incarcerated.

With the studio closed in 2013, the Gallery has relied on the Special Purpose Centre on the Long Bay Correctional Complex to supply almost 100 percent of the works. If this prison closes it would mean the closure of the Gallery. We all work in uncertain times so I urge all of you to visit the Gallery at your earliest opportunity.

Contacts: Long Bay Correctional Complex Arts Program: 02 9289 2077

Boom Gate Gallery, Anzac Parade, Malabar

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