British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley has revealed he spent time in prison in Iraq and Lebanon, and that it was his experience behind bars that inspired his latest offering.
The artist has curated Inside, an exhibition of works created by prisoners that will be displayed at London’s Royal Festival Hall from September 21 until November 15.
Sir Antony told Channel 4 News that he was once mistaken for being a “spy for the opposite side”, and was imprisoned in Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, and in Lebanon.
The 67-year-old, who is known for his Angel Of The North sculpture, also told news presenter Jon Snow that he was held on remand and in isolation in Ashdod, Israel, at the age of 18 for bringing “some drugs back from the Khyber Pass”.
Sir Antony said of the new exhibition: “I got involved because I was a prisoner in Abu Ghraib for a while in Baghdad. I was a prisoner in Lebanon under the Al-Fatah.
“I was just travelling and in both places got taken for being a spy for the opposite side.
“I also brought some drugs back from the Khyber Pass and ended up in jail at Ashdod for 10 days on remand.
“This was a very long time ago. I was 18 at the time and I have this memory of what prison was. I was in isolation in Ashdod.”
Sir Antony said: “And it was this place apart, that was part of society but somehow not of it, that ran by its own rules. Not unlike a studio.
“It’s a place where you reflect on your own life and indeed the context of your life generally. And I sort of felt this is an amazing resource.”
He said that outsiders know “very little” about what it means to be one of the tens of thousands of prisoners in England and Wales.
“We know that most of them breathe fresh air for maybe 30 minutes a day, that most of them are in their cells for 23 hours out of 24,” he said.
“That actually this government has cut funding for prisons by about 30% over the last six, seven years.”
Sir Antony said the “situation in prisons is dire”, and added: “This is a narrow bridge across which those who are inside can talk to us on the outside and tell us what’s going on inside their minds and inside their cells.”
Inside features a collection of works of fine art, design, writing and music from offenders, secure patients and detainees across the UK that were entered to this year’s Koestler Awards, held by prison arts charity the Koestler Trust.