Image courtesy of The Drawing Center.

Free admission (all visitors, all hours)

Featuring more than 140 drawings produced over a roughly two-hundred-year period by imprisoned artists from around the globe, “The Pencil Is a Key” presents powerful evidence of the persistence of human creativity in the most inhumane of circumstances. “The Pencil Is a Key” is an exhibition of historical and contemporary drawings by incarcerated artists from around the world. For each of the artists represented in the exhibition, the act of putting pencil to paper is a vehicle through which they proclaim their individuality and measure their humanity against systems of repression. Together, their drawings are containers of memories, records that bear witness, tools for survival, weapons in the fight for justice, and portals to a better future.

Organized chronologically, The Pencil Is a Key interprets the term “incarceration” broadly to mean any situation in which an individual is denied their freedom. This includes penal incarceration; imprisonment of combatants during wartime; systematic imprisonment by governments on the basis of political affiliation, gender, sexuality, race, or religion; as well as forced restriction of movement and involuntary imprisonment in psychiatric institutions. Throughout the exhibition, drawings by artists who were or currently are prisoners are presented alongside works by prisoners who became artists while incarcerated.