Coming Home, Portraits of the Formerly Incarcerated

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Coming Home, Portraits of the Formerly Incarcerated

Megan Ghiroli's compelling portrait photography is what originally brought her to the attention of Velvetpark. She has worked on still and video projects for Vp over the last ten years. This week she launched an ambitious project of her own wedding her work as a clinician in the social services with her photography. "Coming Home" is multimedia project focusing on 14 formerly incarcerated individuals. The show consists of large format black and white prints and a short audio narrative of each individual's personal story, told in their own voices. 

"Coming Home" Installation view

"Coming Home" takes the name from the program where Ghiroli had been serving recently as a clinician at Mount Sinai Institute for Advanced Medicine. The program Coming Home was founded nine years ago to help those individuals recently released from prison to transition back into their communities. The program provides practical medical services as well as counseling. For those individuals who have been locked up for any given amount of time, returning back into the world can be a daunting and alienating experience. Without any material resources or services to rely on, many individuals end up back in prison, unable to get the fresh start they hope to have upon release. What hits the headlines is rarely the day to day struggles of those who have come through the prison system and made it on their feet. Mount Sinai has one of a few comprehensive programs that deals with an invisible population who slips through the cracks of our society.

Each of the 14 individuals represented in the show tells a different story. Some folks talk about their experience of prison culture, others describe specific vignettes that made them turn their lives around. Yet, what is most touching is that all of the stories are one's of purpose, each individual transforming what would otherwise be a hopeless experience into one of meaning.


As I was walked through the exhibit I bumped into a woman who was listening and looking at one of the portraits titled, "Carlos", who was convicted to serve a 32 and a half year sentence. She remarked to me how interesting she found everyone's story. I realized moments later that she too was one of the subjects on the wall, "Debbie" with her own thoughtful story. The show drew not only the art curious, and those connected to the program but many of the subjects of the show were seeing themselves depicted for the first time (few of them actually knew each other beforehand).


There was "Jazzy", who was standing next to her own photo, remarking on which photos she thought were well done. Her favorite was "George" whose portrait hung on the back wall. When George arrived, he struck the same pose as he had done for his photo. The exhibition was a proud moment for all those who participated and it felt more like a graduation day than the usual Chelsea art scene. And in a way it was all about a recognition of accomplishment—a graduation from one of the most challenging and ruthless institutions in America.


Outside of the fan fair of art fairs, biennials, museum shows, museum renovations (and new constructions), and all the big money that is thrown around at auction, there is the social justice arm of the art world. Its may seem humbler in stature, but no less powerful in its statement on our culture. Art at its finest gives voice and vision to those things we have over looked or marginalized. When art no longer imitates life, or exist for its own sake, when art is in the service of humanities deepest experiences, that is what makes it sublime.


"Coming Home"
Photos and recording by Megan Ghiroli
The Highline Loft, 508 W. 26th St.
May 14 – 17, 2015
curated by Emma Kaywin
sound design Hannah Cintron
with support from Mount Sinai