The Pencil Is a Key: Drawings by Incarcerated Artists


Add to My Calendar Friday, October 11, 2019 12:00pm to Sunday, January 5, 2020 6:00pm


The Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013

Center for Constitutional Rights client Djamel Ameziane will exhibit select artwork he created while imprisoned at the US-run prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as part of The Pencil Is a Key at the Drawing Center. The exhibition runs from October 11, 2019 to January 5, 2020. 

The Pencil Is a Key is an exhibition of historical and contemporary drawings by incarcerated people from all over the globe. Works by artists who were or currently are prisoners will be juxtaposed with drawings by prisoners who became artists while incarcerated. Examples include drawings by political prisoners like Gustave Courbet, who was held in Saint Pélagie Prison for his role in the Paris Commune uprising of 1871; artists incarcerated during World War II as noncombatents like Hans Bellmer, who was interned in France, and a young Ruth Asawa, who was interned by the US government because she was a Japanese American; as well as artists in Soviet Gulags, Apartheid-era South Africa, in Central and South American countries under military dictatorships, and in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. The exhibition will also present drawings by members of contemporary American prison populations who found their talent through prison art programs, as well as collections of works by anonymous contemporary artist incarcerates working in drawing genres specific to prison life, like “Paños Chicanos” drawn on handkerchiefs, or envelope drawings meant to be sold or delivered through the mail.

The drawings featured in this exhibition present powerful evidence of the persistence of human creativity in the most inhumane of circumstances and argue for the necessity of art—in the form of drawing—to the life of every human being.

The Drawing Center is open on Wednesday (12-6pm), Thursday (12-8pm), and Friday-Sunday (12-6pm). You can find out more about the gallery hours and admission fees on the Drawing Center’s website.

Last modified 

September 26, 2019