The following interview gives some insight into what yoga is bringing to prison inmantes and how Robert is bringing his art to a place often completely devoid of beauty.
Q: Please briefly describe the work your doing in the penitentiary:
A: After years of creating with yogis on the beaches of Southern California, I was invited into the California Penitentiary system as a visiting artist to make art of prisoners who were practicing yoga.
Q: From your experience there, what kind of impact do you think yoga is having in the prison system?
A: Most of us do not understand and will never understand what it is like to be imprisoned. After class I usually get in conversations with a few of the men and here are a few things I heard them say.
"Savasana was the first time I ever closed my eyes in the open prison environment."
"When the teacher said try to be angry from this place (after savasana) one of the inmates told me later that he could not get angry if his freedom depended on it. That's how relaxed he was."
"They said things like it was an opportunity to get away, even just for an hour, and be somewhere different."
The warden's words: "One thing I've noticed is that the guys who are doing the yoga are making better choices."
Q: How do you feel the work you're doing is impacting the prisoners?
A: On a long term note, the work I am doing is raising awareness and making it normal that yoga is something being offered in the prison systems.
On an immediate note, the prisoners have a great time being in the pictures. The choice that they have made to enroll in the yoga class is a choice to hold onto what little dignity most of them have left being locked up. People light up when they are being seen. And, seeing is pretty much what an artist does.
After class, the warden let me work one on one with a few of the men. There was one particular model really was great to work with and we made many strong pieces together. When we were done working he said, "Damn that was cool. When I get pout of here I want to be a yoga model." I kind of smiled to myself knowing he would be the guy featured in my Yoga Journal article.
I went back to that prison three months later and the article had just come out with a full page picture of him in Sukhasana and I was able to give him a copy.
Q: As an artist, can you please describe your compositional techniques, and what inspires you to create your art?
A:Composition is a matter of knowing it feels right within me. That is all I go by.
Q: Can you describe your creative relationship to your subjects being that they're often yoga teachers and musicians?
A: Yoga is very beautiful and that is why I continue to return to creating with them. There is a longing to touch the divine that is very easy for me to capture through asanas. I do yoga and I make art. The yogis are my models. Degas would be jealous. Music – I love music and I cannot explain it. The arts were invented because words were limiting in describing the extraordinary beauty all around us. Music is immensely sacred to me – It is its own art and touches me in places that no other art can reach. I am inspired by the music and my work aspires to touch that place. It is a lofty goal – but this is what keeps me going deeper into the mystery of creation. I am a musician — I am just presenting it to the best of my ability with a different palette.
ROBERT STURMAN RECOMMENDS: