- location Philadelphia District Attorney's Office
October 31, 2020
About the Project
As the inaugural Artist-in-Residence at the Office of the District Attorney of Philadelphia, artist James “Yaya” Hough worked to humanize people living and working within systems of criminal justice by cultivating relationships and connections through his artmaking.
Hough is a renowned painter who developed and augmented his artistic talents while serving a once-life sentence at Philadelphia’s Graterford State Correctional Institution. Incarcerated in 1992 at age 17, he took art classes and contributed to over 50 murals installed outside of the walls of the prison through Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice program. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison in 2012, and that the ruling would be applied retroactively, he was resentenced and released in 2019. Since his release and return to his native Pittsburgh, Hough’s work has been featured in museum exhibitions at MoMAPS1 and the African American Museum. He also is committed to changing the prison system in Pennsylvania and abolishing life without parole through organizations Decarcerate PA! and Project LifeLines.
Despite COVID distances and shutdowns, Hough built meaningful relationships with individuals from several overlapping circles – formerly incarcerated people, victims’ advocates, and members of the District Attorney’s office – to paint them in portraits and discuss together what justice means to them. These portraits, titled Points of Connection, and the resulting conversations in one-on-ones and small group salons, provided a window into the larger system, person by person, to approach criminal justice from perspectives of transformation, repair, and growth.
To mark the completion of his residency, Hough’s portraits will be publicly exhibited in several contexts appropriate to our times of COVID and much-needed reimagining of justice. They will be exhibited as large-scale vinyl prints at key sites of justice in Center City, including outside of the District Attorney’s office. Smaller printed keepsake versions of the portraits will be packaged as a portable exhibition, available for free at special events and by postal mail, and delivered to every municipal office, criminal justice site, and selected schools throughout Philadelphia. Additionally, several of the physical painted portraits will be installed in sites of art and justice throughout Philadelphia as a reminder of the power of storytelling and coalition-building to change the way we make justice and art together.
Select portraits are on public display through October 31, 2020, at the following locations
In the News
Fair and Just Prosecution
Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office
Art for Justice Fund