In-Progress

Rendering Justice

An expansive examination of mass incarceration and an unflinching depiction of contemporary America.

View the Rendering Justice Online Exhibition

The Rendering Justice exhibition, curated by artist Jesse Krimes, is an expansive examination of mass incarceration and an unflinching depiction of contemporary America. The artworks are part of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Reimagining Reentry Fellowship program, which supports formerly incarcerated artists in the creation of public art projects. Works included feature varied responses to the displacement of bodies and revocation of autonomy entailed in incarceration. The works affirm how artists maintain a sense of identity, regain their agency, and grapple with coercive forces until—and after—they reenter society. Rendering Justice is created in partnership with the African American Museum in Philadelphia and is made possible with a grant from the Art for Justice Fund.

Mass incarceration in the United States reflects our nation’s fixation on confinement and punishment, which is unmatched internationally and unprecedented in recorded history. The persistence of mass incarceration, in turn, relies on ignoring and erasing the stories of human beings upon whom the criminal justice system inflicts unspeakable suffering.

The Rendering Justice exhibition features a cohort of nine artists from across the country whose work highlights a broad range of issues bound in mass incarceration, with a particular focus on Philadelphia. While the number of people jailed and imprisoned by Philadelphia’s criminal justice system has declined dramatically in recent years, the city remains one of the most heavily incarcerated in the nation.

This exhibition focuses on rendering visible the people and perspectives hidden by the criminal justice system. The featured works constitute a broad, multifaceted response to mass incarceration using multiple mediums including video, sculpture, painting, photography, installations, poetry readings, and performances. At its core, the exhibition is not only a condemnation of the prison system, it is also an affirmation of the resilience and dignity of people who remain behind bars, and those who have come home. Rendering Justice helps reaffirm a larger truth: vast and rich human potential, artistic or otherwise, is wasted when 2.3 million people are behind bars.

The works displayed include original artwork from Reimagining Reentry fellows, created through workshops with men currently incarcerated at SCI Phoenix, women incarcerated at Riverside Correctional Facility, young men and women in Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restorative Justice Guild and Art Education Programs, and formerly incarcerated members from the larger community. Artists include Russell Craig, Reginald Dwayne Betts and Titus Kaphar, Michelle Daniel (Jones) and Deborah Willis, PhD, Mary Elizabeth Enoch Baxter, James “Yaya” Hough, Jared Owens, and Michael “O.G. Law” Ta’Bon.

Creativity gives us the ability to reimagine the world around us, and the criminal justice system is no exception—but the individuals directly impacted by our criminal justice system are best positioned to lead conversations and to find solutions to the problem of over-incarceration. The Reimagining Reentry Fellowship funds selected artists impacted by the justice system to examine the problems posed by mass incarceration on both a personal and a systemic level, illuminating the human cost and potential solutions.

Participating Artists 

Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter

Mary Baxter, also known by her hip-hop name “Isis Tha Saviour,” this award-winning Philly artist creates socially conscious music and film through an autobiographical lens, which is heavily influenced by her experience with the criminal justice system.

Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is poet and lawyer. He is the author of four books. His latest collection of poetry, Felon, was published in October 2019 by W.W. Norton. He holds a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Russell Craig

Russell Craig is an artist from Philadelphia. Russell's work has garnered coverage in outlets including Artsy, The Guardian, and The New York Times. Craig is a 2017 Right of Return fellow, and also a 2018 Ford Foundation: Art For Justice grantee.

Michelle Daniel (Jones)

Michelle Daniel (Jones) is an academic, activist and artist whose work focuses on challenging the collateral consequences of criminal justice convictions for people and families directly impacted by mass incarceration and the creative liberation strategies of incarcerated people.

James "Yaya" Hough

James “Yaya” Hough, a renowned painter, developed and augmented his artistic talents while serving a once-life sentence at Pennsylvania’s Graterford State Correctional Institution. While incarcerated, from the age of 17 in 1992, he took art classes and contributed to over 50 murals outside of the walls of the prison through Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice program. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences for juvenile offenders were unconstitutional in 2012, Hough was resentenced and released in 2019. Since his release and coming home to his native Pittsburgh, Hough’s work has been featured in museum exhibitions at MoMA PS1 and the African American Museum in Philadelphia. He also is committed to being a part of changing the prison system in Pennsylvania and abolishing life without parole through organizations Decarcerate PA! and Project LifeLines.

Titus Kaphar

Painter and sculptor Titus Kaphar appropriates styles and conventions from historical art and uses modern techniques like cutting, shredding, and erasing to dislodge history from its status as the “past” in order to understand its impact on the present.

Michael "O.G. Law" Ta’bon

Michael “O.G. Law” Ta’Bon is a thought leader whose work to reduce recidivism and keep youth out of prison began while he was incarcerated. He found that music, art, and drama are the most effective ways to breakdown communication barriers and build relationships that enable him to reach and re-educate youth.

Jared Owens

Jared Owens is a visual artist whose vibrant, layered style shape-shifts and transcends the notion that abstract art cannot be politically or socially-conscious. Owens’ choice of materials tackles the idea that something society discards can never have worth.

Deborah Willis, PhD

MacArthur Fellow Deborah Willis is professor and chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at NYU. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the history of slavery and emancipation, contemporary women photographers, and beauty.

Curator 

Jesse Krimes

Jesse Krimes is the curator of Reimagining Reentry, this Philadelphia-based artist and advocate explores how contemporary media shapes or reinforces societal mechanisms of power and control from first-hand experience with the prison system.

Funders 

Art for Justice Fund
City of Philadelphia
National Endowment for the Arts

Partners 

The African American Museum in Philadelphia