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Lock Her Up

Created by
Sabrina Mahfouz, Rachel Mars, Paula Varjack
Sound Design by
Gareth Fry
12 Jun - 3 Nov 2018
Paula Varjack, Rachel Mars and Sabrina Mahfouz

Fuel Presents Lock Her Up

Lock Her Up was comprised of three individual ten-minute pieces developed by Sabrina Mahfouz, Rachel Mars, and Paula Varjack in collaboration with sound designer Gareth Fry. The pieces were prompted by research by Professor Hilary Marland and Dr. Rachel Bennett, in response to archival histories of incarcerated women.

Lock Her Up launched in June 2018 as part of the University of Warwick’s Tate Exchange programme, The Production of Truth, Justice, and History.

This Is How It Was by Sabrina Mahfouz

Exploring maternity and motherhood in prison.

“The criminal justice system has been created by men for men and there needs to be a complete overhaul to deal specifically with criminal justice for women. No area is this more starkly obvious than when it comes to maternity and motherhood in prison. Having recently worked in women’s prisons, I was shocked by how many issues examined in the reports found in Dr Rachel Bennett’s research were directly relevant and resonant with what prisoners face today, which is what inspired the content and format of this piece for Fuel. I wanted to disorientate the listener but also ground them firmly in the facts of gender inequality being played out within an archaic system that does as little for society as it does for the individual.”

– Sabrina Mahfouz

In The Times After The Raids by Paula Varjack

Exploring how women resist institutional control

In 2016 I was one of five artists working on Femi Keeling’s My Search for Meaning project, bringing writers into prisons across London. Working on Lock Her Up, introduced me to the history of the prison system. Through drawing on my understanding of both past and present prison life through both projects, “In The Times After The Raids” imagines incarceration (and the reasons for it) in the not too distant future.

Two years after moving to London as a teenager, a period I found myself moving many times, I moved into a flat share directly behind HM Prison Holloway. I thought often then about how strange it was that I was living next to this place, full of women with no say over the hours of their days.

At our first meeting at University of Warwick, Dr Rachel Bennett made me aware of a term I had never heard of before: ‘Breaking out’. ‘Breaking out’ is the sudden impulsive outburst of someone in prison, of someone acting up despite consequences, and often causing destruction to themselves and/or their environment. However, as Professor Hillary Marland and I met and discussed her research, it occurred to her for the first time that it is a term only used for prisoners that are women.

 I am preoccupied with what I see as two contemporary poles in society: To shut off/ be more deeply focussed on the self, and to constantly be aware of all dialogue on current events. I often think how it is easier for some to switch off than others. If your body, features, skin tone, accent, or gender of your partner trigger the comments of others, where is your space to “shut off’ and “not politicise”? Your politics come with you everywhere you go.

 In creating ‘In the Time Before the Raids’, I am interested in how the act of breaking out is not only personal, but a result of a larger political situation. One fuels the other in this case, as is also often the case in general.”

– Paula Varjack

No Soft Thing by Rachel Mars

Exploring women’s experience of solitary confinement

“I wrote most of ‘No Soft Thing’ in a trailer in Austin, Texas. The trailer was 6 foot by 9 foot. It had windows, electricity, a door which unlocked and locked, and – most importantly – a key to the door that belonged to me.

My work is often concerned with inter-personal relationships, cultural identity, conversation. Which is probably why Fuel asked me to consider solitary confinement. What happens to your sense of self when you are encased and in silence? Whilst centuries apart, sources from ‘Mrs Maybrick’s Own Story; my fifteen lost years’,  (a memoir by Florence Maybrick published in 1905) to contemporary documentation of US solitary confinement systems point to alarmingly similar emotional and mental results of being kept alone. Despite obviously different political, punitive and financial reasons for using segregation, the mental health effects on prisoners are comparable, and extreme. I was particularly struck by the loss of language that people report, and a sound world which is at times silent and at times chaotic. ‘No Soft Thing’ is an attempt to consider just for a brief period what happens to the shape of your world and the shape of your self when you are locked up in this manner.”

– Rachel Mars

Lock Her Up was funded by a Wellcome Public Engagement Award to the Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland 1850-2000 project and Fuel’s Wellcome Trust Sustaining Excellence Award which supports the development of their work in bringing together artists, scientists and audiences, so that we might collectively better understand the world.


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