1996 • 31 minutes • Documentary • PBS • Evangeline Griego: Producer & Director • Distributed by About Time Productions
Paño Arte: Images from Inside explores the art form using the images of over 60 paños to discuss the interwoven themes of religion, family, culture and life behind bars.
Used in prison as a means of income and barter as well as for communication and mental escape, the historical, religious, cultural, erotic and sociopolitical images on the paños range from cartoon figures drawn for a child’s birthday to a collage depicting the horrors associated with AIDS. The most common images, however, are associated with life behind bars and what the artist has left outside the prison walls. Though physically isolated from society, the Chicano prisoners’ cultural identity remains strong.
The completed paño often serves as a love letter, birthday card, tribute to a cultural hero and/or personal testimonial of life experiences. While the vast majority of the artists are men, one of the most memorable interviews in Paño Arte: Images from Inside is with a young woman who draws for her son.
Other perspectives on the history, impact and symbolism of this art form come from interviews with former prisoners, the artists’ family members for whom the art is often created, a prison official, and academic scholars.