News - We Are All Human


Poet Benjamin Zephaniah curates We Are All Human, the Annual Koestler Awards Exhibition at Southbank Centre...

The annual Koestler Awards exhibition returns to Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall in September for the ninth year running. The exhibition is the Koestler Trusts annual UK showcase of arts created by prisoners, offenders on community sentences, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees. The annual awards scheme is run by the Koestler Trust, the UK’s best known prison arts charity and is part of an ongoing partnership between the Koestler Trust and Southbank Centre.

This year’s exhibition, We Are All Human (15th September - 13th November 2016) is curated by internationally acclaimed writer, dub poet and musician Benjamin Zephaniah, who has selected a diverse range of artworks from nearly 7,000 pieces submitted to the 2016 Koestler Awards from across the UK. The works on display in the exhibition include painting, music, writing and ceramics as well as traditional prison crafts such as matchstick modelling. The curator has selected works that explore themes of time and the natural environment, with a particular focus on creative writing and poetry within this year’s display. We Are All Human provides a unique and thought provoking insight into the lives and minds of prisoners, secure patients and detainees across the UK.

To present the exhibition to the public, ex-prisoners have been specially recruited, trained and employed by the Koestler Trust as exhibition hosts. They will work alongside Southbank Centre staff to invigilate the exhibition and welcome visitors throughout the exhibition run. As well as gaining unique work experience and new skills, the ex-prisoner hosts will deepen visitors’ engagement with the exhibition, enabling everyone to hear firsthand how the arts reflect and enrich the lives of people in secure and criminal justice settings.

On Thursday 15th September, there will be an official exhibition opening by Benjamin Zephaniah with speeches, performance and a panel discussion exploring behind the scenes of the exhibition. Artworks will also be available to purchase in the Koestler popup art shop alongside tours through the exhibition led by ex-prisoner exhibition hosts.

Benjamin Zephaniah said: “I was in prison myself in the 1970’s and back then there was no way you could express yourself. I felt like a creative being but there was nothing there to do. I express myself through words, and here I am surrounded by people who express themselves in different ways – matchsticks, paper mache, painting. Every bit of artwork in the exhibition has meaning, everything is relevant to the person who’s created it. We are all human, it’s a really simple truth, even if people are going through difficult times we are all trying to survive. We are all here because of circumstance. In my younger years everyone told me I would spend my life in prison, but there was a little spark inside of me that thought – ‘no, I’m a poet.’ I want the artists to know that their work is valuable, in terms of expression and adding to the whole conversation about life. The same for people who visit the show – it's good art!”

The exhibition runs from 15 September – 13 November 2016 at Spirit Level at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall. See the website for more details.

Image - Fruits of my Labour, HM Prison Grendon