Earlier this year, students from the university’s new MA in Applied Theatre were afforded the opportunity to work alongside myself and colleagues from Rideout (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation) on a unique drama and writing project taking place in three prisons in Staffordshire. The Catalogue of Imagined Provenances is the result of a partnership between Rideout and the National Justice Museum (NJM) in Nottingham. IATL’s Project Support funding enabled six MA students to each spend one week with Rideout in one of three Staffordshire prisons; HMP Stafford, HMPYOI Swinfen Hall, and HMPYOI Drake Hall.
Amongst the National Justice Museum’s collection is what was, until the early noughties, the Prison Service’s own archive. This archive includes a significant number of objects made by prisoners over the last century. Very little is known about these objects. In most cases we don’t know who made them, where and when they were made, or indeed why. Rideout’s project set out to address this in a creative way, by taking photographs of the images into prison and asking serving prisoners to invent histories for some of the pieces. In addition to imagining who might have made the objects, participants were also asked to consider the evidence that might ‘prove’ their story.