Unlock the talent inside

Since 1962 the Koestler Awards have played a unique, national role in motivating prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to take part in the arts. The Koestler Awards are simple and powerful – we reward achievement, build self-confidence and broaden horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Our work harnesses the uniquely transformative power of the arts to help individuals learn the skills and gain the confidence to live creative, positive and productive lives. Each year we receive more than 7,000 entries from over 3,500 entrants across the UK in 52 categories. More than 2,000 Awards are granted by over 100 esteemed judges, and each year culminates in a curated exhibition at Southbank Centre which showcases the incredible power of the arts to transform lives.

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  • Soul Journey to Truth

    HOME, Manchester

Frustration, HM Prison & Young Offender Institution Forest Bank, First-time Entrant Award for Drawing, 2020

Soul Journey to Truth

A Koestler Arts exhibition for the North West of England

HOME, Manchester, as part of the Ripples of Hope Festival

17 May – 6 June 2021
Curated by Lady Unchained

Admission to this exhibition is free. Please book your free tickets in advance from HOME.

Soul Journey to Truth is an exhibition that shines a light on the creative talent within prisons, secure settings, and people on probation in the North West of England.

The exhibition will share a selection of fragile and powerful stories through artwork from the 2020 Koestler Awards. Many of the pieces on display were created during the pandemic.

The exhibition has been carefully curated by Lady Unchained (Brenda Birungi). It showcases over 135 artworks ranging from drawings, paintings, to writing and music. All the artwork was entered into the 2020 Koestler Awards, our annual scheme to promote artistic achievement in the criminal justice system.

Soul Journey to Truth takes its title from the word Sojourner, meaning a person who resides temporarily in a place. It is also inspired by Sojourner Truth (b.1797 – 1883). Truth was a Black American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who was born into slavery in New York. She escaped to freedom in 1826.

The exhibition is divided into themes of self-reflection, nature, animals, and a dedication to Black History. Visitors can explore art that imagines hopeful futures and reflects diverse voices.

Meet the Curator: Lady Unchained

An image of Soul Journey to Truth curator Brenda AKA Lady Unchained
Lady Unchained. Photo by Tom Pilston

Lady Unchained is an acclaimed London-based performance artist and poet, who is the Founder and Creative Director of Unchained Poetry, an artistic platform for artists with lived experience of the criminal justice system.

Her mission is to prove that there is life after prison and challenge the ‘ex-offender’ label through creativity.

In the lead up to the exhibition, Bren O’Callaghan from Manchester’s HOME sat down to chat with Lady Unchained about what the exhibition means to her.

About HOME and Ripples of Hope Festival

HOME is Manchester’s centre for international contemporary culture. Since opening in 2015, HOME has welcomed over 2.9 million visitors to see thrilling theatre and dance shows, experience great independent films from across the world, dive into the new art in the galleries, relax in the café and browse the bookshop.

Ripples of Hope Festival celebrates the power of people to make human rights a reality for all. Launched in May 2021 with this exhibition, the festival takes place on 15-19 September 2021 at HOME and with Feasts of Hope in Greater Manchester. It is presented by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

Is there justice in our justice system?

Online event

Thu 13 May 2021, 10.00

Who is being locked up? Should they be? And what are the chances of a new and better life afterwards? Do our prison and justice systems really make society safer or fairer? What can we all do to make sure a prison sentence isn’t automatically a life sentence?

Join in as Jude Kelly talks to Soul Journey to Truth curator Brenda Birungi (also known as the poet Lady Unchained), Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Nazir Afzal (former Chief Prosecutor) about how people end up in jail, the experiences inside, and then what the future holds for ex-offenders. Help us think about life before, in and after prison and how we can shape the future of criminal justice in the UK.

Find out more and book tickets


Listen to the accompanying playlist of original and cover music, curated by Lady Unchained. All of the music was entered into the 2020 Koestler Awards. To see the caption information for each piece, click ‘view track’.

This playlist contains adult themes and language which some may find distressing – parental discretion is advised for younger audiences.

Online Gallery

Coming soon.