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Indigenous inmates celebrate art and culture at show

Indigenous inmates from Parklea Correctional Centre have captured their culture and talents through art with an exhibition now on show at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in Leichhardt.

Parklea inmates made their debut onto Sydney’s art scene last year with their inaugural show at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst. St Vincent’s Health Network has been the provider of health services at Parklea since 2019, when MTC Australia began operating the prison on behalf of Corrective Services NSW.

The exhibition with Boomalli came about after the inmates asked if they could show their work at the prestigious gallery, which was established by Aboriginal artists in 1987.

Parklea Governor Wayne Taylor said it was exciting to be staging another show so soon after last year’s successful exhibition and that the team at Boomalli had recognised the talents of the inmates and their work.

“Our mission at Parklea Correctional Centre is to run a safe, decent and secure prison that reduces reoffending and takes care of staff,” Mr Taylor said.

“We provide a number of programs to support men of every background, and art allows people to express themselves, it gives them a sense of pride and improves their self-esteem.

“Creative programs are an important part of our prison’s education and reducing reoffending strategies, and they help to improve inmates’ mental health and wellbeing.

“Inmates who participate in the art program receive tuition from specialised staff, and support from other inmates who act as peer mentors.

“This fantastic partnership with Boomalli provides a platform for inmates to showcase their work in a professional gallery and connects them with mentors to develop their craft when they’re released from prison.”

Boomalli Curator Kyra Kum-Sing said the gallery was delighted to exhibit works by talented artists from Parklea.

“Boomalli wanted to provide an opportunity for the artists to tell their stories and have their works exhibited. We hope this exhibition will inspire the artists to continue on their journey and maintain who they are,” Kyra said.

The exhibition features 20 artworks by 10 Indigenous inmates.

Mulu* (pictured) has created one painting for the show depicting a fish, which represents a father and son going fishing.

“The painting is for my son, telling him about his story. The Dreamtime brings us back together.”

Mulu is a Gamilaroi man and was born in Moree in North-West NSW. He was a ward of the state and during that time he attended Aboriginal heritage camps that taught young people about their culture, which is where he first learned to paint. He learned further techniques from elders in prison.

“When I paint, it’s freeing. It helps me realise my feelings and is therapy,” Mulu said.

“I paint the stories of my life. Everything to me is a story – every dot, it’s there for a reason.

“Painting helps me connect with my ancestors and loved ones. When I think of the ancestors, a pathway will clear and show me the way.”

Mulu hopes to continue his art once he leaves prison to keep him on the right path.

“My wife says I have to continue, as when I’m out there I lose my way, but when I paint, I don’t,” Mulu said.

“Now I have a family, I’m painting for beautiful endings.”

The exhibition is on now until 13 July at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, 55-59 Flood Street, Leichhardt.

Artworks are for sale and inmates receive the majority of the proceeds, which will help them establish a new life when they leave prison.

*Name has been changed.