John McCarthy, image by Caroline Bond

Somerset Art Weeks Festival
21 September – 6 October

World-renowned writer and broadcaster John McCarthy opened a day of special events on Saturday 28th September at B-Wing, an art exhibition which explores the nature of incarceration, part of Somerset Art Weeks Festival.

John McCarthy was held hostage for five years during the civil war in Lebanon. During that time he was chained up, blindfolded and sometimes beaten, and experienced solitary confinement. The exhibition includes film of him reflecting on captivity and the unjust imprisonment of people involved in political conflict.

The exhibition takes place in the former prison at Shepton Mallet. Built in 1610, it was the oldest working prison in the United Kingdom when it closed in 2013.

Voices in a darkened cell, rickety ladders reaching for the sky, and a portable companion guide, reveals a new side to Shepton Mallet Prison in the exhibition, which has been created by eight artists.

John McCarthy said:
“When I thought about the horrors of the solitary cells that prisoners were kept in over hundreds of years, it struck me as a brilliant idea to use the prison as a venue for art. It’s very hard for people who have not experienced it to get a sense of what loss of liberty feels like, and how that affects your mind. To have that interpreted through a variety of artforms is fascinating – it’s coming from artists’ imaginations. I’m curious to see how visitors to the exhibition will try to interpret what that captive experience might feel like. I think it will encourage people to open up their imaginations and to think about what captivity means today.”

John McCarthy is a patron of Freedom From Torturea charity which campaigns for change and provides therapy and support for survivors of torture around the world.

Gillian Taylor

Published on October 3, 2019 // Sarah Adey