Artist Works with Inmates to Create Giant Murals in France Prison

Curators’ Corner

Artist Works with Inmates to Create Giant Murals in France Prison

One of France’s roughest prisons is now the site of two six-foot-tall works of art created in part by those behind its bars.

Acclaimed street artist David Mesguich worked with six inmates at the infamous Baumettes prison in Marseilles, France to create vibrant murals that take the element of contrast beyond the confines of a medium. An intricate illustration is framed by the starkness of cement; pops of pink challenge spirals of barbed wire.

The goal, Mesguich told the Huffington Post, was “to show the prisoners… that beautiful and positive things can still come from inside them.”

Baumettes is notorious for scandal and understaffing. In 2012, France’s Prison Inspector published a report outlining the prison’s “inhuman” conditions. The document included pictures of dead rats, piles of garbage, sewage floods and torn walls.

Mesguich’s father was incarcerated at Baumettes, which the artist said inspired him to bring art to a world that is otherwise filled with isolation. The challenge wasn’t creating the murals themselves, but rather creating them under the provisions of the prison system.

“It was not simple to put this in place, because the constraints of the prison environment determine the way the work can happen,” he said, pointing to the example of not being able to use a ladder when accompanied by inmates.

Additionally, Mesguich was only able to work with prisoners for two hours at a time.

“So I came back during off-hours, between noon and two, and continued alone at the site with the ladder,” he said. “The rest of the time, I waited in a room while the time passed.”

While the murals are indeed beautiful, the true beauty is in the creative process and social significance behind them. Mesguich’s name is signed at the bottom of each piece, right alongside the signatures of six inmates who managed to create art in the harshest of environments.