Since 2022, the Frieze Impact prize has championed artists whose work grapples with social issues including mass incarceration and immigration. This year’s award goes to LA-based Gary Tyler, who was wrongly convicted of murder in 1975 and spent nearly 42 years in Louisiana State Penitentiary despite his sentence having been ruled unconstitutional. He receives a $25,000 bursary and a solo project at Frieze LA.

“I feel grateful that visitors will see me as a person, not just as a news article,” the textile artist says. It was while volunteering at his prison’s hospice that he embraced quilting to cultivate “a sense of purpose”. “I recognised how impactful it was to fasten on to fabric to tell a story,” Tyler says. At Frieze, the artist will present an appliquéd self-portrait series reflective of his “transformation across the decades”, alongside woven scenes paying homage to those who crossed his path. Despite still professing his innocence, Tyler was released in 2016 after agreeing to plead guilty to manslaughter as part of a plea bargain.

“Tyler portrays human creativity’s capacity to triumph over adversity,” says Romola Ratnam, head of impact at Frieze’s owner, Endeavor. Through tales of hope and recovery, “he illuminates the experiences of incarcerated individuals, putting their humanity and resilience first.”

A woven, black-and-white image of a man dressed in a T-shirt captures him as he stares into the distance handcuffed
‘Defiant’ (1976) by Gary Tyler © Courtesy the artist/Library Street Collective. Photo: Tim Johnson

For the artist, it is about proving that “everyone can succeed if they are given the chance to acclimate back into the world”. Almost 2mn people were in jail in America last year, “but imprisoning is not the answer to crime”, Tyler says. “Rehabilitating, reforming and re-educating is.”

This year’s prize is a collaboration with the Center for Art and Advocacy — a non-profit supporting artists who have been imprisoned — and was selected by Endeavor chief executive Ari Emanuel, artist Gary Simmons and businesswoman Tina Perry-Whitney.

February 29-March 3,

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article