Artists study stigma from behind bars

Artists at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre explored the impact of stigma as part of a show at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Artists at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre explored the impact of stigma as part of a show at the Yukon Arts Centre.

“Crossroads: Connections Between Hepatitis C and Incarceration” has been on display in the community gallery since early July.

It was organized by Yukon’s Blood Ties Four Directions to coincide with yesterday’s World Hepatitis Day.

Ten artists – nine of them currently incarcerated in the Yukon’s jail – created 13 pieces on paper or canvas for the show.

The artists do not necessarily have hepatitis C, but each can relate to the amount of stigma that comes with that sort of label, said Patricia Bacon, Blood Ties’ executive director.

“We know that there’s a lot of people in jail who have hep C, a very stigmatizing health condition, and being incarcerated is a stigmatizing life experience,” she said.

The show is about looking at the similarities between those feelings and where the two intersect, she said.

In Justine Ellis’ brightly coloured piece, Ying & Yang, a pair of handcuffs divide a rainbow angel figure from a darker half.

“It was a lifelong journey to be accepted and to understand myself as an artist, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a niece and aunt,” she wrote.

“I see clearly now and realize that people are willing to help.”

The show is also about drawing attention to the high rates of hepatitis C in jails and prisons.

The rate of hepatitis C in jails and prisons across Canada is between 20 and 30 per cent, Bacon said.

The Whitehorse Correctional Centre doesn’t keep specific statistics on its population.

Things that increase your risk of hepatitis C, like drug use, make you more likely to land in jail.

“In the jails and penitentiaries there’s illicit drug use that continues to go on,” Bacon said.

While some countries offer safety precautions like clean needle exchanges inside jails, Canada does not.

Covertly sharing drug equipment without clean syringes means the risk of transmission inside jail or prison is also very high, she said.

Blood Ties Four Directions is a local non-profit organization focused on awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

The organization does monthly prevention workshops at the jail and provides counselling and support when clients are incarcerated.

Before being moved to the arts centre all the pieces were displayed at the jail for other inmates to see.

Displaying the work publicly is meant to get people talking and thinking, Bacon said: “seeing people who are incarcerated as whole individuals as opposed to just seeing them for what their status is as incarcerated, and to remind our community that we have some really good artists.”

“Crossroads: Connections Between Hepatitis C and Incarceration” continues until Aug. 6.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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