Spreading their wings: imprisoned artists’ work goes up for auction in UNMIK-supported project

22 Jun 2024

Spreading their wings: imprisoned artists’ work goes up for auction in UNMIK-supported project

The art exhibition and auction was unusual for one major reason – the artists were not only not present, but also anonymous.

The artworks of 11 women went on display, and up for sale, on the gallery wall of Kosovo’s main library yesterday, as part of the final event of an “Art from Prison” project.

All of the women are currently imprisoned at the Lipjan/Lipljan Prison, where they have been using art as a form of self-expression as part of a project by NGO Monumenta, supported by UNMIK.

“Regardless of difficulties or trials, life is beautiful with many colours, and you should always choose life even though it may seem easier to give up,” one of the artists explains.

She started painting five years ago in prison as a way of expressing her feelings. She said it was her first time using the filigree technique, but she found the technique – and entire project – a beautiful experience.

The project, which was run in coordination with Kosovo’s Correctional Service under the Ministry of Justice, saw the women trained in the traditional art of paper filigree. The project serves a dual purpose, as the proceeds from the sale of the auctioned artworks will provide the prisoners a financial base for once complete their sentences.

Another artist explains that process of creating art has been a form of therapy for her.

 “It has a positive effect and is an anti-stress activity for me. I would like to continue in the future – we needed something like this.”

Another artist has been dealing with handicrafts all her life, “but this project is the best work I've done so far. This project has had such a good impact on me that I think about working all the time. I lose myself when I am working on these beautiful flowers”.

The project initially foresaw the creation of only 10 artworks, but the women showed such enthusiasm – at times working through the night – they ended up creating 30 artworks.

Besides using art as a way to introspect and heal, the project is an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to reducing recidivism.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, UNMIK Head of the Office for Community Support Margarethe Matic lauded the project’s multiple benefits – on both an individual and a societal level.  

“As UNMIK continues to work towards fortifying the foundations of enduring peace and a sustained, inclusive and stable society, support for measures to achieve a reduction in the rates of recidivism by offenders is a vital component.”

The benefits would continue, giving the artists tools to integrate into society after their sentences are finished, she said.

The project is designed as a comprehensive programme that promotes personal growth, mental health, societal reintegration, and long-term empowerment for incarcerated women.

The motif of a bird appears frequently in the women’s artwork and is also part of the logo of the NGO undertaking the trainings, Monumenta.
Director Doruntina Ukimeri says this is no coincidence:

“A bird often symbolizes freedom, the aspiration to rise above one's circumstances, and the hope for a better future. For women in prison, the bird represents the possibility of liberation and new beginnings.”

Monumenta has launched an online platform showcasing the women’s artwork which is also available to the public to buy:  https://artfromprison.online/