Behind the Walls exhibition features art from the incarcerated


When Manuel Basaba became incarcerated just after high school, he never dreamed he would one day help other prisoners at his own art gallery. Now on the other side, Manuel, the owner of Mesheeka Cultural Art Center, has dedicated his business to lifting others out of sadness, anger, regret and pain with his vision of hope. Mesheeka, which refers to the original Aztec name for Mexico is a place that’s imbued with the vitality of Chicano culture and the artistic spirit.

The multi-talented entrepreneur is making a difference as a clothing designer, musician, artist, and social justice activist. On Jan. 12, he hosts his third installment of Behind the Walls: Prison Art Exhibition, a show displaying the paintings, drawings, and mixed media sculptures of the incarcerated.

He noted of the show: “Their art is done in a place where materials are scarce or next to impossible to find, where art is highly respected and valued, and where inhumane conditions, misuse of power by prison staff, cruel and unusual punishments and prison violence act as inspiration.”

One highlight of the show will be a “spread” contest, which Manuel explains is “like a chili cook-off. Spread is a prison-made casserole dish, made from ingredients found on a commissary or canteen list that inmate can purchase once a month with money sent from family and friends or from getting paid for slave labor inside prison.”

What’s actually in a spread? Manuel continues, “The base ingredients of spread are top ramen noodles that come in a small brick or square, mayo, mustard, chips, hot sauce, cheese and a protein, either tuna or bologna, or maybe a piece of soy meat saved from dinner. The prison food served is so horrible and not edible that inmates rely on spread for their main food source.”

The concept of the spread has become so ubiquitous in prison culture that written recipes pass through the prison system to the outside with cookbooks now on Amazon. On Jan. 12, a percentage of the proceeds of the event will go to the winner of the Spread contest along with the inmate artists. Mesheeka will not take any commission from the art sold, with 100% going directly to the artists. Manuel invites everyone to “journey with me on a trip you will never forget.”

Also at the show will be special guest Victor Rivers, an actor, author, public speaker, and star of the 1993 film Blood In Blood Out, which depicted the rise of prison gangs and population during the 1970s. Setting the vibe to music will be Moniloca of Lowrider Sundays.

Behind the Walls: Prison Art Exhibition

When: 6-10 p.m. Jan. 12

Where: 2113 Logan Ave., Barrio Logan

Cost: A $9 donation for adults will be accepted upon entry, $3 for kids.