Art for Justice, a Philadelphia area based non-profit organization that supports and exhibits the artwork of prison inmates, will celebrate its 50th art display at the Widener University Art Gallery from Aug. 30 to Oct. 15.
The exhibition at Widener is called Incarcerated Artists: Creations from Within and will feature more than 75 works by 14 different artists who are either on death row or serving life sentences at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford and the State Correctional Institution at Greene.
The exhibition spans a broad range of art media, from the more traditional oil, acrylic and pastel paintings to those painted with coffee and one painted on a handkerchief. The works also include a comic book series titled “Death Row Comics” and various other works done in mixed media.
Founded in 1997, Art for Justice supports inmate art to stimulate dialogue on ways to prevent crime, reduce levels of incarceration and find effective ways to improve the criminal justice and corrections systems.
Art for Justice Director Ann Marie Kirk said the organization has helped raise awareness and create a public dialogue about serious issues in the criminal justice system including wrongful convictions, mandatory sentencing, the improper use of isolation units, juveniles serving life sentences and those who are incarcerated with serious mental illnesses. She also said the organization has had an impact on helping youth avoid destructive and violent behavior through the Road Map for Life Workshops.
“We have presented these workshops five times for youth who are most at risk of future incarceration,” Kirk said. “Through their engagement with the art and the topics reflected in the art, the youth are encouraged to turn away from destructive activities and learn to make choices that will lead to success in their lives.”
One of the artists, Charles H. Lawson, also known as “Zafir,” is co-founder of Art for Justice. He said he has two goals he hopes to achieve through his art: one is to inspire youth to look at their own talents and turn away from violence, and the other is hope.
“It is my hope that in viewing my artwork you will recognize that even in prison there are individuals who have worth and have something to contribute to their communities,” Lawson said. “I believe redemption is possible, even for those who are long term offenders.”
The gallery will be open on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Wednesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The gallery will be closed Saturday, Sept. 3. For more information on Art for Justice visit artforjustice.org.