Three years ago, while visiting Ukraine, Michal Chelbin (1974, Israel) passed a high brick wall. Next to it stood two men. As she states: "Our eyes crossed and I can still remember their reflection today – a mesmerising human blend of fear and cruelty. I was later told this was a men's prison and from that moment I wanted to see what was inside."
Prison is usually depicted in films and on television as full of energy and violence, but what Chelbin found – it was the first time she had entered a prison – was a boring place of tiring routine: “The majority of these men are weak, fatigued and controlled by a small number of strong individuals. There are men who committed terrible crimes and are now walking around like zombies.” As much as the prison for adult males troubled her, the juvenile prison for boys was hell on earth. “I could sense the terror in their eyes from the moment I entered. Boys who stole a cell phone as an adolescent prank are trying to survive next to boys who have raped and slaughtered,” Chelbin says. The women’s prison, with an age range from 22 to 70, was another shock. Chelbin: “Unlike the stories I had heard, it was almost a haven, a place where girls who had committed awful felonies are being kept safe from the dangers of the outside world.”
Michal Chelbin's work has been widely shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide and can be found in many private and public collections. The book on prisoners is scheduled for publication (Twin Palms, September 2012) and will be Michal's third monograph. The book will be accompanied by a solo show at Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York.