New Shepard Fairey mural a tribute to life after prison

The face of a woman peers out from a Philly wall in a new mural exploring themes of post-incarceration recovery, created through the Mural Arts Program’s ongoing Open Source art series.

Shepard Fairey, the famed L.A. artist who created the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster, designed the portrait of formerly incarcerated woman Amira Mohammed — now an architecture student at Community College of Philadelphia — entitled “The Stamp of Incarceration.”

“Even though I’ve been arrested a few times, that wasn’t what motivated it,” Fairey said of his decision to create a project themed around incarceration issues. “What I’m focusing on as much as the statistics is the healing power of art for people in and out of prison.”

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Fairey’s real interest, he said, was in addressing the causes and effects of incarceration, and how work in art or training in other professional trades can help released inmates return to society — noting that recidivism for arts project participants is 50 percent lower than typical parolees.

“I look at everyone as having the potential to do great things to change society, including the 70 million americans who have a criminal record,” Fairey said. “A lot of the punishments are disproportionate to the crime.”

Fairey also designed a mural at 11th and Callowhill of James Anderson, a former gang member from L.A. who is now committed to anti-recidivism community activism. The mural itself was painted by Graterford state prison inmates participating in a Mural Arts program, he said.

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“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 said. “If I met Amira on the street, she’s intelligent, she’s kind. I never would have thought this is somebody thats ever been in jail.”

The mural, which can be seen on the side of the Friends Center facing Race Street off 15th Street, was created by Fairey, a former street artist, and his assistants spraypainting stencils on the wall. The publiclocation is meant to help bring this subject into everyday life, Fairey said.

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“It’s a subject a lot of people dont want to talk about, they don’t want to deal with it. It might be your neighbor, it might be your barista, it might be your cousin — somebody you know has been through the system and when they come out of the system you want them to be a healthy productive member of society,” he said.

The ongoing Open Source series brought together 14 artists, each working with a specific community to explore a social issue and create site-specific art installations on those subjects, some temporary and some permanent.

Further events from the Open Sourceseries will be held through the end of October.