Mona in Prison

The composites of drawings are the artwork of 70 artists primarily living in solitary confinement throughout the United States.

The prisoners were given the opportunity to participate in what was referred to as the “Mystery Painting Project.”

The project’s goals were to unite individuals living in solitary confinement in a kind of visual choir and to develop a way for the prisoner-artist to understand art outside the typical prison approach of “drawing an object; beyond the world as an assortment of objects to an experience of relationships.

I took a 36″x24″ poster of the Mona Lisa and cut it into 73 four x three inch pieces. Without revealing the identity of the painting, I sent these mostly unrecognizable pieces of abstract color pieces of the Mona Lisa along with drawing paper to the participants. (I actually cut up two posters and everyone received at least 2 pieces of the painting.) The prisoners were asked to redraw their pieces of the poster at the larger size of 8.5″ x 11″ and to draw a self-portrait. This self portrait, as seen above, correlates in grid location to the artist’s drawing in the Mona composition.

The different mediums (pastels, etc) that the artist used depended upon the regulations of the particular prison.

The black blocks in the composite of Mona are the result of prisoners who could not complete the drawing. The most frequent reason for not completing the project is that the prisoner’s particular prison deemed the drawing paper as contraband and was not permitted into the prison.

The black blocks in the self-portrait are also the result of classifying drawing paper as contraband. However, there are additional black blocks in the self-portrait grid because many artists in solitary confinement have no idea what they look like; mirrors and photos of them are forbidden in solitary confinement.

As Emil writes,”I cannot figure out what to do with the self-portraits. I have not seen myself since 2005 and we here in the SHU are not allowed ID’s. So I really have no idea what I look like.”

Lester did create a self-portrait and writes to ask for copy so that he can send it to his family; “…they have no idea what I look like now.” It has been a while since Lester has been allowed to see them.

In actual dimensions, the composite of Mona that the prisoners created is 8 feet high by 6 feet wide.

I received many letters of enthusiasm for the project, as Robert writes, “Thanks for allowing me to participate in this project. It was pretty cool!”

Both Mona In Prison and the Self-Portrait composites will be made into 17” x 11″ posters and sent to all participating artists; 17×11” is the maximum paper size permissible in most prisons. If you are interested in learning more, visit Treacy Ziegler An Open Window Project.