Dr. Nayanee Basu, a Fulbright Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow at SDSU on March 23rd 2019 at SDMA, presented her field work on the role of art in West Bengal, India prisons. Dr. Basu may also touch on her observations of such programs in the U.S as California is known for its world renowned prison arts programs.
Dr. Sushumna Kannan Interviews Dr. Basu on her experience …..
What brought you to do post-doctoral work in the US?
While completing my doctoral research on the role of dance in the lives of survivors of trafficking, prisoners, special-needs children and adolescents in Kolkata, I came to know that art practice in prisons was first pioneered in California, in the mid-70s.
What is your background?
I am a Sociologist by training from an artistic family. The Presidency College, University of Calcutta and J.N.U., New Delhi are my alma maters and my high school built its educational ideas from Rabindranath Tagore.
What is the status of art in prisons in India?
The status of arts workshops within correctional facilities vary from state to state. The nature of art workshops differs too since they usually originate organically from local cultural sensibilities. Bureaucratic leadership and progressive laws have been critically important in such programs. The last decade, have been significant for creative arts practice in prisons in India. This is reflected in media and press-releases, but, there is yet no standard nationwide.
‘Those incarcerated’, instead of prisoners.
Many a times, persons incarcerated, those with a history of incarceration as well as artist-activists working with them, expressed their discontent regarding the words like ‘prisoner’ or ‘prison inmate’. These words clamp down a person’s identity to a certain phase of their life, and actions, nor reflect their entire personality and human potential.
Why is art in prisons important?
Art education and its power to heal minds, transform personhood, impact lives, and communities. We are at a moment when correctional institutions are opening up to the restorative justice of the rehabilitative potential of the creative arts. Art workshop participation led by artist-activists familiar with these challenges assist in countering the ill-effects of forced crime-education.
Are there lessons learned from fostering art in prisons in the US?
My current research is a qualitative interview-based study inspired by the genesis and resilience of art programs in the prisons of California. I would say that about 48 US states have effective arts programs in prisons. The sheer number of prisons and the state-wise variation in the arts programs can provide examples and exchange of ideas with other countries who are looking towards the arts for correctional rehabilitation.
Are there differences between art in prisons in the US and India?
Arts programs in Indian and US prisons have sprouted organically from the respective societies. While in California, it has been initiated by artists and academics who are civil-society activists, in the Indian context, it has mostly instead been initiated by bureaucratic leaders. The system of correctional administration is considerably different. For instance, private prisons are a reality in US that are non-existent till now, in India.