Dr. Sketchy Auckland arrived at Manukau Women's Prison only 20mins late despite numerous to & fro-ing on the Southern motorway. Who would have guessed that the friendly 'this exit Rainbows End' sign was the one to take? Well apparently it makes a twisted sort of sense. As we were gleefully informed by some of our erstwhile sketchers "you know what they say about the water in the women's prison!"
After a quick stripping down of metallic objects and a pat down to make sure I wasn't hiding a machete in my rather fitted 50's style pants we were given pencils, sketch pads, erasers and sharpeners (one for each of us, prisoners aren't allowed control of such dangerous objects). Ushered into a room not unlike my high school classroom we are told to sit tight, the guard will bring them to us shortly.
It is worth noting that Brett and myself are on the low security side of the prison, and that it isn't just this room that reminds us of our schooling years. The entire prison is unusually like such establishments, and although at the time I was forced to go to school I always felt a prisoner, I had imagined something quite different in scenery when we had agreed to bring Dr. Sketchy to the detained. Apart from a number of unusually high fences topped with barbed wire, the grounds are open, spacious and rather well landscaped. I find myself thinking this would be a perfect place to escape to in a zombie outbreak....
It turns out, Dr. Sketchy is a very popular option amongst the female prisoners (take that Pictionary. Nobody wants to play boardgames when they can be entertained by the Anti Art School!). We have a full room of Christchurch locals, flown up to Auckland after the earthquake in an Army plane. They inform us they thought they were being taken off to war with a mischievous glint in their eyes. And so class begins.
We learn quickly that this can't be run as a normal Sketchy session. Attention spans wane if there is not enough variety, and due to the fact that many of these women have limited sketching practice, they feel self conscious at first. Brett suggest a quick lesson, and brandishing a pencil I run through a quick 'how to' on the basics of sketching faces. Once they have some tools in their artistic belt they settle and seem to enjoy the process more. The camaraderie of these women is genuine. Each competition winner shares her prize with the others at her table.
Brett's suggestion that each woman takes a turn posing is taken up by a few, quickly followed by more when I inform them I will sketch anyone who poses. It seems like a small thing, but all the women involved enjoy having a sketch from Dr. Sketchy to take back with them. By the end of the session they seem thrilled to have had the opportunity to partake in something different, and in fact donate a few sketches for us to share (these scanned sketches to be found in the photo album section).
Brett & I are proud to say that feedback from the prison has been positive, and that we have been invited back to do Dr. Sketchy with the women of Manukau Prison on a semi-regular basis.
Johnny Cash indeed.