Exhibit at Brandon gallery offers portal into lives of incarcerated artists

A southwestern Manitoba artist Brian Moran had one of his paintings displayed on Thursday for an event called "Pathway to Change: A Conversation About Art and Hope" at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon.

Exhibit is 'about expressing optimism, concerns, hopes, fears through art,' gallery curator says

A man holds a t-shirt with an Indigenous art print while looking in a mirror.
Brandon artist Brian Moran holds up a shirt displaying his work. Moran, who spent time in jail in his early 20s, says making art has helped him find peace. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

For years, southwestern Manitoba artist Brian Moran denied his artistic abilities, even though he says every time he picked up a paintbrush, it soothed his soul.

While he has dabbled in the arts for many years, he would throw his creations away before anyone could see them.

"I didn't think it was good enough," Moran said.

Moran is now part of a weekly art get-together with other men at the Men's Resource Centre at Brandon's John Howard Society — which works with people who have been involved in the justice system, including those who have been incarcerated.

The experience has helped boost his confidence and given him a platform for his art, says Moran, who spent time in jail in his early 20s.

While he was incarcerated he would draw, he said, but it was difficult because he associated the images he created with being locked up.

"I ended up ... taking that picture off the wall because I didn't wanna go back to see it again."

A pastel drawing of two polar bears and the northern lights.
One of Moran's paintings. 'Sometimes I'll be mad. Then I start drawing. It just takes it away,' he says. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Moran says he used to be a really angry person, but art has helped bring him peace.

"I'll tell you, it's a stress reliever," he said. "It also gives me the ability to … take away a lot of anger that I have and it keeps me calm.

"Sometimes I'll be mad. Then I start drawing. It just takes it away."

One of his paintings was on display this week with other Men's Resource Centre artists for an event at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon.

The event was held in connection with a current exhibit at the gallery called "Pathway to Change: Artwork by Incarcerated Persons in Manitoba," curated by the Manitoba Multifaith Council Justice and Corrections Committee.

The Men's Resource Centre artwork, including Moran's, was displayed as a one-off supplement to the exhibit on Thursday, when Bernie Mullins, a chaplains co-ordinator with the government of Manitoba, held a workshop to talk about the exhibit.

All 38 pieces of its pieces were created by youth and adults currently incarcerated in Manitoba.

Looking at the pieces, guests can find the "story within the story," gaining a glimpse into the life of those who are incarcerated, Mullins said during his presentation, and discover "the meaning of the spiritual change from a unique group of people whose voices are not always heard."

A woman in plaid stands in front of a sketch drawing of a hand reaching out.
The John Howard Society's Linda Johnston with a piece featured as part of the art gallery's 'Pathway to Change' exhibit. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Linda Johnston, who works with the John Howard Society's reintegration services, described the exhibit as an opportunity for the community to understand the experience and feelings of people in the criminal justice system.

"Art impacts people and ... it can be a way to healing," Johnston said. "[It can] maybe build that understanding ... that we're all people, we're all on that pathway to change."

Hosting the exhibit at the Brandon art gallery takes away some of the stigma associated with incarceration, she said, and can foster a better understanding of the artists' experiences.

"Most of the folks that I've met in custody, they tell me this story of trauma," she said. Art "gives people a way to work through some of that as they're experiencing their everyday reality in custody."

For the exhibit, inmates were encouraged to think about their "pathway of change" and how their choices affect themselves and their community.

The art they created serves as a vehicle to express these feelings while looking toward the future with hope, said Johnston.

Lucie Lederhendler, the art gallery's curator, said the event was an opportunity for the gallery to share "stories that don't get told very much" but that are "intensely personal," even though the submissions were anonymous.

Two people look at paintings on a table.
Gallery curator Lucie Lederhendler, left, and Johnston check out pieces by members of the John Howard Society Brandon's Men's Resource Centre. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The gallery's goal was to curate a show that helped people "understand that link between the social issues that this exhibition is addressing and the actual artwork that they can see with their eyes," Lederhendler said.

"It's about expressing optimism, concerns, hopes, fears, through art practices."

Moran said the encouragement he has received in Brandon is helping keep him on this path, because he has been able to connect with his community.

It's hard to fully embrace his craft as currently doesn't have a home, and is staying at Brandon's Safe and Warm Shelter. But he hopes to one day get a grant to create his own studio.

The encouragement he's getting now gives him "a lot more incentive to do more," Moran said.

"I've had this talent all my life and I never really took full advantage of it," he said.

"The people, you know, telling me it's good ... makes me feel good."


Chelsea Kemp

Brandon Reporter

Chelsea Kemp is a multimedia journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is based in CBC's bureau in Brandon, covering stories focused on rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback with