“Why should I run? Where would I go? Twenty years I’ve lived in prison. Now I have something to live for. Life has meaning.” This was the unexpected and humbling response Vannucci received when she asked a prison inmate of Italy’s notorious Volterra Prison and touring theatre actor why he'd never tried to escape when he had so many opportunities to do so.
In 1998, Armando Punzo established the Compagnia della Fortezza, a theatre troupe comprised of dangerous felons and hardcore “lifers,” at Tuscany’s Volterra Prison, which shares a reputation akin to California’s Folson Prison and New York’s Sing Sing. In Italy they have found prison theatre to be highly therapeutic, producing positive results for rehabilitating prisoners and ultimately reintegrating them into society. Actor-inmates are taught how to read, to work collaboratively, and to be responsible for each other, as well as themselves. Traveling troupes perform to sold-out crowds throughout Italy. And the inmate’s experience is very much like a real touring actor’s — During the day the men are free to roam, without supervision by guards, at night they perform, and then at the close of the performance they are escorted to the local prison for their overnight stay.
Clara Vannucci began her series six years ago, and through her lens continues to capture the remarkable transformation these men undergo trying on roles of alternate characters’ lives and in the process leaving behind the stigma and pain of their own past regressions, albeit for a brief moment on stage. Yet, that moment proves profound as the actor-inmates reconnect with their deeper humanity and figuratively escape the physical barriers that cut them off from society. For these men Vannucci reveals that theatre is redemption.
To an American viewer, Vannucci’s images appear as realist images of Rene Magritte’s surrealist world, juxtaposing faceless, dapper-dressed characters with harsh prison facades. In other words, the images appear out of place and unreal, and yet their mystifying quality draws us into the drama that these men act and live. Standing regal in seemingly rich costumes the prison bars and brick courtyards recede into the background and we see these men apart from their labels as “felons” or “prisoners”, and rather in their new roles they are offered a greater dignity and perhaps even a new chance at life.
The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery is honored to present for the first time ever in the United States the alluring and uplifting photography series, Crime & Redemption Theatre by Clara Vannucci, opening on Friday, November 9th, 2012 and running through December 20, 2012.
[Image: Clara Vannucci's Volterra Prison, July 2011: Two inmate-actors waiting in the prison hall for the public to arrive for the performance of Hamlice, Limited-Edition Silver Halide Print on Fuji Professional Crystal Archive Paper]
Come early to the Opening Reception on Friday, November 9th to meet the photographer, Clara Vannucci, visiting us from Italy! Artist Talk will begin at 6pm.
The opening reception is free and open to all.
Gallery Hours: Wednesday to Friday, 11am-5pm, Saturday, 11am-3pm, and by appointment.
Please Note: The Gallery will be closed for the Thanksgiving Holiday, Wednesday, Nov. 21 thru Saturday, Nov. 24.
Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery is located at 1632 U Street, in Northwest DC
Learn more about the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery
Special thanks to our wine sponsor:
Join us at the Opening Reception to sample fine wines by Cambria, Solletico, & Calina:
All of our specially featured Majestic Fine Wines are available for discount at Calvert Woodley!