Captive Labour Exhibition –
Launch Party and More!! 

Written By Sephra Lamothe

Sephra and Camilla discussing a pair of shoes in a glass case

Co-Curators Sephra Lamothe (left) & Camilla Leonelli Calzado (right) during curator’s tour.

The Captive Labour exhibition was co-curated by Camilla Leonelli Calzado, a fourth year Fashion student, and Sephra Lamothe, a second year student in the MA Fashion program under the supervision of Dr. Alison Matthews David. It opened at the Catalyst in the Creative School at Toronto Metropolitan University on November 3rd and can be viewed until November 30th. Captive Labour  highlights the exploitative labour occurring within penitentiaries across Canada. 

On November 22nd we’re hosting an event featuring guest speakers and a panel at the Catalyst 

Guest speakers include:

The Captive Labour launch party included a guided tour of the exhibition by the co-curators Camilla Leonelli Calzado and Sephra Lamothe, as well as talks from speakers involved in our curatorial journey. The guided tour walked attendees through the exhibition, which uses the shoe workshops in Kingston Penitentiary that operated from 1835 to the 1970s as a case study to explore the experience of inmates working within the penitentiary system. The guided tour highlighted key artifacts and provided contextual information and insight into the curatorial process. Key artifacts in the exhibition include a shoe made within the workshops at the Kingston Penitentiary in the 1960s, photos and testimonials from inmates in the 1930s, and a moccasin produced this year by Indigenous inmates at Warkworth Institution, highlighting the parallels between the shoemaking labour performed by historical inmates and those incarcerated today.

Camilla talking about the photo posted on a walll

Camilla Leonelli Calzado demonstrating poor fit in inmate uniforms in the 1890’s.

Work in prisons has always been unpaid or underpaid, and this is still true today. For example, while the federal minimum wage is increasing, prisoners saw their earnings cut by 30% in 2013. Currently, the Federal minimum wage is $15.50/hour, while most prisoners make between $5.25-$6.90/day and have 20-40% of their earnings deducted for room and board (CSC, CD730). This compensation pales in comparison to the value of goods and services they generate. In 2020, inmates produced approximately $43 million in revenue from goods and services. They were expected to produce $70 million but the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic affected production and sales (CSC, 2020-21 Departmental Results Report). The exhibition aims to highlight that exploitative labour is not strictly a historical issue but is still occurring within the Canadian Penitentiary system today. 

Alison Matthews Davids standing at a podium discussing an image being projected

Dr. Alison Matthews David during her guest lecture. Displaying photographs of  their Kingston Penitentiary research tour.

The Launch Party guest speakers included Dr. Alison Mathews David who discussed her current project, the Fabric of Crime and experience supervising the Captive Labour exhibition, Eve Townsend, the Coordinator of the Fashion Research Collection in the TMU School of Fashion, who discussed the donation of objects from the Ingenium Museum of Science and Innovation which inspired the current exhibition. Elizabeth Semmelhack, the Creative Director and Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, provided the history of shoemaking. Cameron Willis, Assistant Curator of Canada’s Penitentiary Museum, provided a detailed talk on how working conditions led to riots in the Kingston Penitentiary in the 1930s. Molly McCullough, Assistant Curator with the Ingenium Museum, provided an update on the future plans of the museum’s collection from Kingston Penitentiary, which provided the donations that sparked the exhibition.

A man standing in front of a podium in front of a crowd

Cameron Willis – Assistant Curator at Canada’s Penitentiary Museum, sharing his expertise on 1930’s prison conflicts and events.

The Captive Labour exhibition at The Catalyst will be on display until November 30th. The Guest Speaker event on November 22nd features guest lectures and a panel discussion will be held within the Catalyst space. You won’t want to miss it!

5 women posing in front of a glass case with a pair of shoes

Guestspeakers Eve Townsend with the FRC, Molly McCullough with The Ingenium, Dr. Alison Matthews David & Co Curators Sephra Lamothe & Camilla Leonelli Calzado posing in front of the Production Case which demonstrates a shoe produced in the 1960’s penitentiary shoe workshops.


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