Artists and prisoners, sewing and Sotheby’s

Our project with Fine Cell Work is just beginning, with writers and editors being confirmed this month. But, thanks to a London exhibition this week, now’s the time to get a sense of the groundbreaking work being done by the charity. Fiona Thompson shares the details.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of sewing and social justice coming together, you won’t want to miss the latest exhibition at Sotheby’s.

Open for just a week, from 26 February to 3 March, Human Touch will display artworks created by contemporary artists and prisoners. In this ground-breaking collaboration, artists and stitchers have worked together, with highly-skilled prisoners following artists’ precise instructions to create unique artworks that will be auctioned online.

The pieces include ‘Odyssey in Quilting’, a large-scale hand-embroidered quilt designed by Ai Weiwei that depicts the transition of migrants across the globe. Together with Ai Weiwei, 13 stitchers in eight prisons have brought this project to life.

Also on display are works by Idris Khan, Carolina Mazzolari, Annie Morris, Cornelia Parker, Bob and Roberta Smith, Wolfgang Tillmans and Francis Upritchard. All the stitchers who have taken part are trained by Fine Cell Work, a charity that makes beautiful handmade products in British prisons. By teaching prisoners high-quality needlework skills and paying them for their work, the charity helps prisoners to boost their self-worth and encourages them to lead independent, crime-free lives post-release.

As many 26ers will know, we’re currently embarking on an exciting new project with Fine Cell Work. To celebrate the charity’s 25th anniversary in 2022, writers from 26 are contributing to a hardback book that will feature stitched artworks created by prisoners and artists over the years.

The Ai Weiwei quilt will appear in the book, along with many other stitched artworks that form an important part of the charity’s history.

If you can, do catch the exhibition. You might also want to wander along to the Fine Cell Work pop up shop at 42 South Molton Street, London W1K 5RR. It’s open on the same days as the show and will be staffed by two volunteers who can tell you more about the charity’s work in prisons.

If you can’t make it to Mayfair this week, this Guardian article has some gorgeous pictures of the works on display, as well as an inspired title: ‘A stitch during time’.

The online auction closes on 3 March.

What: The Human Touch

Where: Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1S 2RT

When: 26 February – 3 March 2020

Opening hours: Monday – Friday 9am – 4.30pm

Fiona Thompson

Images taken from

Detail of Ai Weiwei’s ‘Odyssey in Quilting’ and Cornelia Parker’s ‘Bitter/Sweet’

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