Kerobokan prison is the Bali prison where Schapelle Corby spent her last nine years. It’s also home to the Sydney man, Myuran Sukumaran, who was arrested and convicted in 2005 as part of a group now known as the Bali Nine. Sukumaran was sentenced to death in 2006 and has appealed for clemency from the president of Indonesia. As part of a long slow process of rehabilitation Sukumaran turned to painting, which has culminated in his first Australian exhibition.

“The hardest thing about painting,” says exhibition curator Matthew Sleeth, “is to not paint like your mentor.” We’re in the gallery vault where Sleeth has laid out several paintings, and it’s obvious what he means. For the past few years, the Archibald-winning Ben Quilty has been working with Sukumaran in Bali, which has left a noticeable impression. Like Quilty, Sukumaran specialises in portraits in a thick Impasto style, but with a warmer, slightly more surreal palette. There are Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Sukumaran’s own melancholy face in pink and ochre. It’s surprising how good they are.

Sleeth and Quilty have run workshops at the prison, all aimed at promoting reform, which the Indonesian government has been incredibly supportive of. “Ben does the painting and I put together some theatre, says Sleeth. “It’s all about channelling the prison experience into something constructive, whilst chronicling change in the prisoners themselves. Sukumaran was twenty-four at his arrest. He’s older now and you can see that in his painting.”

The program began three years ago, as part of the prison’s emphasis on criminal reform. A volunteer supporter, Mary Farrow approached the well-known Quilty, who signed on with artist and filmmaking friend, Sleeth. They’ve contributed to Kerobokan’s arts program ever since, which encompasses around two dozen inmates.

So what are Sleeth and Quilty trying to achieve? “Art gives the inmates hope,” says Sleeth. Indonesia’s support for rehabilitating these prisoners has given us hope, and this exhibition affirms that optimism.”

Paintings from Kerobokan Prison runs for one night only at Matthew Sleeth Studio, 19 Michael Street, Brunswick, Saturday September 6, 6pm–8pm. All sales are donated to the prison art room to buy supplies for the inmates.
Inquiries: Megan, 0403 648 430