Graffiti Art in Prison is a project that originated in 2021 following an invitation extended to French artist David Mesguich by Professor Gabriella Cianciolo from the University of Cologne. The goal? To explore artistic expression within prison walls, creating a synergy between scientific research, educational activities, and social involvement. The project came to life within Sollicciano prison in Florence, an isolated space from the rest of the city, where a diverse group of artists, educators, and scholars dedicated themselves to challenging the boundaries of creativity and social perception by organizing a series of workshops with inmates. In 2022, a fortunate encounter between David Mesguich and American photographer Martha Cooper led to her involvement in the project from a documentary perspective.
«Our idea was to place art at the center of a dialogue between the past and the present, between often-forgotten individuals and the possibilities of redemption through artistic expression,» says David Mesguich. An intriguing aspect of the project is the involvement not only of inmates but also of prison guards. Thus, the project becomes a true social experiment that aimed to break down mental and cultural barriers. «We saw surprising human connections emerge between guards and inmates during an experience that transcended simple artistic creation,» says a representative from the prison administration involved in the project.
At the heart of GAP was the process of creating artworks that blended graffiti with large-scale installations. Not without obstacles, the project faced resistance from prison authorities. «We had to undergo lengthy negotiations to obtain permission for our installations, but we never stopped believing in the transformative power of art,» affirms David. The artworks created in Sollicciano prison, now dismantled, survive only through Martha Cooper’s photographs, precious testimonies of a moment when differences were erased, and creativity surpassed the confines of incarceration. «The images I captured within the prison are evidence of moments when the invisible barriers between individuals crumbled,» recounts Cooper, reflecting on her experience within the project.
Courtesy David Mesguich & Martha Cooper