Jailhouse Art, Prison Art, Pano Arte - AKA Panuelos and Handkercheif Art
History of Pano-Arte
Some say that handkerchief painting originated in Texas prisons. Many Mexicans were incarcerated in Texas jails during the 1940s. Most of them were Catholic and male. It is entirely possible that San Antonio had the largest share of Mexican prisoners in the world. Southern California being a close second.
Having much time on your hands creates an urge to do something. Painting and other art works are right brained activities that cause time to be invisible. Painters are often asked how much time it took to produce a work of art and the answer is usually "I don't remember" or "I couldn't say". It's very much like meditating. So the prisoners took to drawing like a duck to water.
Graffiti is historically a gangland activity. In jails, graffiti is commonly use to mark territory or pass on messages to other inmates. The true artists look for mediums available to them. The handkerchief was very much like a canvas and colored pens and pencils were available. Some artists used leftover wood from the woodshop, but solid objects like this were quickly recognized as contraband. Handkerchiefs were easily passed along to just about anyone and a warden could hardly make a case for banning them.
From my personal collection:Click thumbnail to view full-size
Available patterns in prison are usually cartoon characters. These are the most frequent patterns used. Good patterns are passed around and even used as collateral for items that inmates may purchase in the commissary as are the pañuelos themselves.
The quality of the art is always dependent on the artist. Talented artists have been incarcerated and have actually made a name as an artist by painting pañuelos. They are used as gift cards and sent home especially around the holidays.
All it takes is an envelope and a stamp to send them and prison art is very rarely censored. Some inmates have created such a demand for their art that the prices are equal to art in a museum. Collectors regularly buy pañuelos when they are up for sale on eBay or other auction sites.
When men are shut up for years on end, their thoughts naturally turn to women and risque' themes. A very frequent theme is the Virgin of Guadalupe with roses and often without clothes. This is a Mexican/Catholic symbol that crops up over and over on pañuelos.
Women in prison art almost always have large busts and little clothing. Some images are banned, but that doesn't stop them from being smuggled around. These are the most sought after handkerchiefs for obvious reasons. These are traded for "chits" which can be used to buy food, gifts, or small personal items.
Graffiti, Tattoos, Low-Rider Art and Murals
All sorts of art is painted on to a handkerchief. The major themes include graffiti, tattoo art, art associated with the Low-Rider Chicanos of the South West and Mural art found throughout Mexico and Hispanic neighborhoods.
Flowers, religious symbols, women and fantasy art is what it's all about for men in the prison system. The expression of art can literally set them free.
View Contemporary Prison Art in this Video...
© 2011 Lela