Mar 18 2019

Restorative Justice

A quick google search for “street art” provides a broad definition along the lines of “visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned, and executed outside of the context of traditional art venues”, but street art is much more than that. It’s actually about a thriving counter culture –  a community filled with thousands of hardworking artists. Street art creators stay up until 5:00 AM just to go throw up a new piece for the public to enjoy, contemplate, and photograph. They risk their lives climbing rickety obstacles to access better real estate for their art. It’s a gritty community of passionate creators… creators who rarely get the credit they deserve because of the legal status of their work.


Since the early 90’s, one of the most relevant creators of street art has been Shepard Fairey. Most of you have seen Fairey’s work in the form of Obama’s famous “Hope” campaign poster, or from his staple streetwear brand, Obey. Shepard Fairey spent years dodging police to produce his famous wheat paste posters, and plant them wherever he saw fit. He was actually arrested, and spent time in jail, for doing so.


Fortunately, Philadelphia Mural Arts Program – one of the ‘sanctioned’ programs embracing street art – saw past this controversial past invited Fairey to the city to speak up for those who have been silenced by the stigma of incarceration. He was given the opportunity to use his controversial art to make a difference right here in Philadelphia.


Fairey met with inmates at Graterford SCI in October 2015, as well as members of the mural arts re-entry program (for formerly incarcerated people) and others involved in the mural arts restorative justice program. Throughout his conversations with inmates, Fairey identified a common thread:  he found that most, if not all, had an extremely hard time making something of themselves when they left prison. This motivated Fairey to create two murals in Philadelphia to make a loud statement about this issue.


Said Fairey, “My goal with these pieces was to shed some light on the issue, destigmatize incarceration by finding a couple people who I think are doing really great things who were formerly incarcerated.”He searched for subjects whose promising futures are helping to break the the stigma of incarceration, ultimately targeting two inspiring individuals: James Anderson, an ex-con who is now co-operating a company with a mission to regenerate ecosystems, and Amira Mohamed, also a former inmate, who studies architecture and works for Mural Arts.


James Anderson Mural

Photo Credit: Steve Weinik


The individual pieces favor Shepard Fairey’s traditional “propaganda” style with bold reds, oranges, and yellows. Each mural features one of the individuals he selected, telling their stories through what look at first glance like typical propaganda posters. From the murals, we learn about the individuals’ promising futures, and the art features some of the accomplishments each achieved after incarceration.


Amira Mohamed Mural

Photo Credit: Steve Weinik


The murals are still intact, and great spots to visit. One is located at 1131 Callowhill Street and the other is located at 1500 Race Street. To see more of Shepard Fairey’s work, check out his website.


Does your creative push boundaries? Connect with us. We’re always on the lookout for artists who defy the standard.



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