. . .
A few teenage boys and women sit together in
a room where a yellow light shines on their attempts
at creating art. Their hands are buried in clay,
and when the task is finished they will admire
their work and marvel that they could become artists.
This is the Abovyan Prison for Women and Juveniles.
And for the past two years, the non governmental
organization (NGO) Trtu has turned the lockup
into a sort of art colony for criminals.
"I think that the main reason for becoming
a criminal is lack of education, and we are trying
to reveal prisoners' own essence using beauty,"
says Temik Khalapyan, head of Trtu. "It is
inconceivable when a woman sentenced for a homicide,
creates wonderful pieces with clay."
Since January of 2002 more than 120 imprisoned
teenagers and women (the majority of them have
already been set free) have taken part in various
They have staged a play, have created "Edj"
prison monthly newspaper, have studied national
songs, dancing, fine arts, knitting.
Since February of this year the prisoners have
been studying pottery, which, according to organizers,
was one of the most successful projects.
On the 19th of November their clay pieces were
exhibited in Yerevan National Art Museum. The
authors of the pieces were also presented there.
Eighteen year old Khachik is in prison for stealing.
He joined the pottery class several months ago.
"To evade working in the 'zone' (Russian
slang for prison), I would go and sit by the door
of the pottery classroom and would try to kill
time," Khachik says. "But Khalapyan
got angry with me one day. So I was pissed off;
I sat down, made a plate with clay and sculptured
a church inside the plate, and I saw that it looked
Khachik says he liked pottery very much, not
only as art, but also as a way to earn money.
"I will be released next month, but I would
like to learn more about pottery, so that I could
earn money outside," says Khachik. "For
instance, if I sell my plate for 500 drams (about
90 cents), I will be able to buy a kilogram of
clay, and will make five similar pieces. This
is a good business."
art on display . . .
According to 45 year old potter Barsegh Harutyunyan,
the teenagers attend the class with a great enthusiasm.
"But there is a big problem," says
master Barsegh. "It is insufficient for pottery
teaching to have classes only twice a week, especially
when many of the prisoners, who have short sentences,
are being released from the prison not having
enough time to learn the main finesse of the art."
Now Trtu tries to find some means to found a
similar class outside the prison, where their
former pupils could attend.
"After being released they call me and ask
to continue the studies," says Khalapyan.
"If we ignore these wishes, it is very likely
that the former prisoners will start to commit
Trtu has been sponsored by the Open Society Institute
but that sponsorship ends in February.
"The Institute will not finance the same
project twice, and it will be very difficult to
tell the prisoners that they will not be able
to continue studying pottery any longer. There
are no other financial sources yet," says
The staff of the prison has also become close
with Trtu, and considers them to be full members
of the work collective.
"If during Trtu's work, at least one prisoner
gives up the criminal world, it will be a great
victory," says head of the administration,
colonel of justice Yura Jamalyan. "And I
am convinced that they have already succeeded
in having several prisoners take the right route
According to Jamalyan, the number of prisoners
has considerably diminished recently. Today the
number of prisoners does not exceed 100, only
seven of which are teenage boys.
Twenty-nine year old Anush Grigoryan has five
years left on a sentence of seven years and four
months for murder.
Anush attends pottery classes, and says she is
sculpting her future there.
"I am impatiently waiting for freedom to
combine my ideas with what I've learned in prison,
and to create individual pieces from clay,"
She is sure that one day she will serve guests
from coffee cups and desert bowls made with her
For more information about Trtu prison art
call (374 1) 42.16.57 or write to email@example.com
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