Legal Cheek

Supreme Court’s art exhibition showcases sculptures and paintings by young offenders

Display features metal warriors and clocks made from matches

Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, and Sally Taylor, chief executive of the Koestler Trust, at the opening of the STORY TIME exhibition

Nestled away in the Westminster building that’s seen some of the country’s trickiest and most important legal questions answered now lives an art exhibition featuring the work of offenders under the age of 18.

The small display, the brainchild of prison arts charity the Koestler Trust and Victim Support, is called ‘STORY TIME’, and focuses on how stories can be told through art and design. The whole project fits neatly into a glass display box positioned just before the entrance to the Supreme Court’s café — except for one piece, a tower clock made out of matchsticks by prisoners in HMP Grendon, which is located inside the café itself.

Though it doesn’t boast the scale of other more major art exhibitions, the Koestler Trust/Victim Support display is sincere and intriguing.

This is because the creators of the artworks are young, anonymous offenders, whose stories and reasons behind the paintings, sculptures and photographs the user can only but speculate. A name, age or short bio of the artist would have been appreciated, but the ‘why did a prisoner make this?’ and ‘was this piece based on the artist’s life experience?’ guessing game is the exhibition’s main charm.

Though information about the artists themselves is thin, attached to some of the pieces are short quotes from people affected by crime who were given the opportunity to react and respond to the pieces. Comments include: “this is a wonderful imaginative piece” and “[this] gave me a sense of eeriness and peace”. Visitors are also encouraged to leave comment cards, which can then be forwarded anonymously onto the prisoner artists.

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As for highlights, a dustbin-like warrior is probably the most eye-catching piece, though the metal butterfly made by a young person in Vinney Green Secure Unit (a secure children’s home) sitting next to it is charming too.

For those expecting more explicitly prison-themed pieces, an acrylic painting called ‘Man in a Pad’, hailing from an artist in HM Young Offender Institution Wetherby, depicts a young boy donning Nike trainers sitting on what looks like a prison bed. ‘Outside In’ shows two sportsmen encaged in what looks like a security fence, made of plastic.

The Koestler Trust states it receives over 7,000 entries each year for their annual art award scheme, these spanning 51 mediums including art, writing and music. Art lovers can check out more pieces in the Southbank Centre, this larger exhibition curated by the man behind the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley.

This isn’t the Supreme Court’s first toe dip into the exhibition world. Alongside the highest appeal court’s permanent, interactive education installation — which is free to attend and provides history and information about the Westminster court — last year Legal Cheek reviewed a similar art exhibition again created by the Koestler Trust and Victim Support.

The 2016 display was called ‘PAPERWORK’ and showcased about 30 pieces of art made by offenders in prison serving community sentences or in secure psychiatric care. Highlights included a pineapple made out of paper, a print of Cara Delevinge and a flower necklace.

‘STORY TIME’ runs until 7 December and is free to attend.