Judith's Return

previous Project

Judith’s Return is an experimental opera and video work created and performed by artists and people convicted of crime. It explores the virtue of courage and takes its title from the Raine Maria Rilke poem of the same name. The project combines the voices of current and former prisoners from Australia and Poland with multi-channel video and music for church organ, synthesizer, soprano and drums. The accompanying operatic was composed by Brennan and Polish collaborator Szczepan Pospieszalski and its libretto is taken from Rilke’s poem.

Created by
James Brenan

Inspired by the imaginative world of incarcerated people, Judith’s Return reclaims virtue in a contemporary setting. It takes as it’s muse the Old Testament biblical heroine and murderess Judith, and explores the personal and ethical issues surrounding an act of courage. Current and former prisoners are cast as philosophers who dissect the story, at times echoing their own experiences, regrets and hopes.  The result is an emotionally devastating performance that shatters judgments around convicted people’s capacity to live morally and ultimately asks viewers to consider the limits of liberty. 

The work has been created in partnership with Białołęka Prison, Warsaw, one of Europe’s largest detention centres. Working with a Polish translator and sound recordist, Brennan ran a six-week program in the prison’s gymnasium with nine men currently imprisoned at Białołęka. The prisoners were invited to contribute as experts and discuss their own ideas on crime and virtue. From these unrehearsed conversations that drew on personal experiences, Polish history and the moral codes of the street, a moving and philosophical narrative voice emerges.

Shot on location in some of Poland’s most mysterious corners. From the highest mountain peak to the grimiest bombed out warehouses of the holy city of Czestochowa, through drug-fuelled parties and empty castles, the video flies with a third-eye view through the iconic and hidden landscapes of the prisoners’ country. The visions and voices of participating prisoners are placed in the ‘world outside’ the walls of the prison. These intimate ethnographic records inhabit the spaces the prisoners have left behind once again in defiance and yearning.

Judith’s Return is the first in a series titled THE VIRTUES. These seven large scale collaborative works are created in collaboration with prisons around the world, between 2013 and 2053. Each work is produced for audiences inside and outside the prison walls. 

Performance History

  • 2021

Mona Foma →

Tasmania, Australia



Jason Cross → Email