Art created by incarcerated youth in Utah featured in new library exhibit

Dec 5, 2022, 6:10 PM | Updated: 6:48 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A new art exhibit at the Salt Lake City Public Library is getting attention. It features the work of people who are incarcerated in Utah.

The exhibit is called “Dissolving Contradictions.” It was created by youth who are a part of Utah’s juvenile justice system, who took part in a college credit art seminar on surrealism.

One of the paintings drawn by a resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, depicts a waterfall running alongside an island oasis.

“I come from an island, so I was like, ‘Let me put a little side island on,'” he said.

It’s next to a melting planet earth, and beneath that are two people in a boat.

“What if the world’s moving too fast and we’re trying to keep up with it, but we’re not doing things that we want to do?” the amateur artist said.

Down the hall is the piece titled “Time and Emotion,” created by another resident.

“The eyes kind of represent how there’s a lot of eyes around me still, watching what I do. You’re always being watched,” he said.

He’s been living inside the Decker Lake Youth Center for a year and a half. He said the series of faces with different expressions in his painting represents what he feels inside.

“We got the crying face,” he said. “I’m in a situation where it’s too hard to hold inside myself, so sometimes, I feel like crying.”

Another face has stitched lips.

“We got the stitch-lipped face, which represents ‘don’t see nothing and don’t saying nothing,’ which basically goes toward my life — mind your own business,” he said.

The painting also features a hand, with fingers full of clocks, and an evil eye.

“The evil one represents evilness around my life, and how it kind of did me something wrong, done me dirty,” he said.

The artists behind these images took the painting personally.

The young man who crafted the painting that depicts two people in a boat underneath a melting earth said he feels hope for his future looking at his completed piece.

“Everybody got dreams, right? So I guess, yeah, my dream’s to be chill once I get out, do what I want to do by not worrying about nobody, just focusing on me and the other person I love,” he said.

The two budding artists in the middle of their own story said they’re leaving their art up for interpretation. 

“I never thought my artwork would be like that,” one resident said. “I’m appreciative people would take time and look and try to figure out what the picture is meaning.”

The artists will see their work on display. They will virtually attend the exhibit’s official opening Tuesday.

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Art created by incarcerated youth in Utah featured in new library exhibit