Prison Art on Instagram

Immaculate by Unknown prison artist

In searching for 25 of Prison art’s most beautiful women, uploaded artworks by prisoners to Instagram proved to be invaluable.

According to Statista, “In 2020, 87 percent of surveyed art buyers claimed to use Instagram to find new artists, whereas 48 percent of respondents stated the same in 2016.” Notable art collector Anita Zabludowicz revealed to Artnet News she has used Instagram to seek out art from emerging artists.

While using Instagram to find emerging artists is legitimate, where does one go to find the Established Prison artists? 

If the 2.3 million American prison population were a city, it would be the fourth largest behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, all known for very vibrant art scenes. American Prison culture influences American Street culture. American Street culture influences American Pop culture, and American Pop culture influences Global culture. 

The Graffiti writing that became popular on the Streets of America was inseminated into that environment from a released juvenile prisoner who picked up the craft while incarcerated. Because Graffiti is a crime of vandalism, a legal outlet was created by city policymakers who were overwhelmed by the vandalism. Thus was born Street art. 

To many, there are no discernable differences between Street art and Graffiti. While this is true on a visual level, the difference between the two lies within the law. Permission to deface an owner’s property is Street art. Defacing property without the owner’s permission is Graffiti. Graffiti is vandalism, and is criminal art.

Another artistic form of popular American Street culture that has Prison culture’s fingerprints all over it, is the proliferation and acceptance of tattoos within those American communities most affected by America’s mass incarceration.

In 1980, the Los Angeles Lakers won a NBA championship behind its rookie guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Johnson grew up in a part of America known as the industrial Midwest. He is from Lansing, Michigan. 40-years later in 2020, the Los Angeles Lakers won another NBA championship, this time with fellow industrial Midwesterner Lebron James. James grew up in the neighboring state of Ohio, in the city of Akron. The question is, “How many 1980 Lakers had tattoos, as opposed to the 2020 Lakers?”

When Magic came into the NBA in 1979, there was no such thing as First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No,” and the proceeding War on Drugs that followed. In 2003 when James came into the NBA, the War on Drugs, and tough on crime laws had already had been in effect for well over a decade, and lain to waste many communities of Color.

It was the newly paroled sporting their Prison tattoos that made this once taboo form of Body art to become acceptable in Street culture and less so obnoxious in American Popular culture.

Now it seems Instagram has been the go to for those collectors in search of the art by the infamous. In a GUEST of a GUEST article, “Anna Delvey’s Prison Artwork Could Get Its Own Exhibition,” it is reported, “Publicity offers for the recently-freed cult icon seem to be rolling in. One of them, according to reports, includes a solo exhibition of her jailhouse doodles. Page Six says that artist and curator Alfredo Martinez has fallen in love with the stylish sketches Anna had posted to her website and Instagram while she was still behind bars. The tongue-in-cheek drawings nod to her designer tastes and seem to depict a more glamorous interpretation of her time spent in jail.”

In her Medium post, “She Was Convicted of Murder, Now She Sells Art on Instagram,” Fatim Hemraj writes about convicted Wisconsinite Ezra McCandless, “During the trial, Ezra spent most of her time working on drawings she now sells on her Instagram page to fund an appeal.”

Let us not forget the $6.2 million debut NFT Perspective, Graphite on paper, by darknet Silk Road website founder  Ross Ulbricht at Art Basel, Miami in 2021. Ulbricht, who is confined in Federal prison, received a sentence of two life sentences without the possibility of parole plus 40 years and a $183,961,921 fine.

In “25 of Prison Art’s Most Beautiful Women,” Instagram had proven to be a vital resource in choosing the final 25 prisoner artworks to make the selection. Pinterest, a very reliable reference for art behind the wall, had not a single selection nor Redbubble.

While Instagram overtook Facebook as the art world’s channel of choice in 2017, writes Aimee Dawson for The Art Newspaper in, “Instagram turns ten: how the world’s favourite photo app disrupted the art market,” hopefully  the social media giant can be a discovery channel for the not so infamous prisoner artist.

In the 2020 article “How Covid Impacts Prison Art Exhibits,” we interviewed Art for Redemption founder Buck Adams, who explained to us:

Getting prison systems to open up to the idea that inmates making money to help pay their socialtial debts, take some of the financial burden off of their families through the use of creativity and art should be something looked at as positive.  Doing the time is the punishment. To not allow one to share creativity and talent is beyond the scope of punishment I believe.

Darealprisonart is the largest multimedia source of prisoner news and art across multiple Web platforms. We sell over 10,000 art print products of Prison Art. If you know of a prisoner writer, poet, or visual artist, tell us about them in the reply.


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