BETHLEHEM, PA —Incarcerated individuals tell their stories through art in the thought-provoking exhibition Hope in Hard Times: Prisoners’ Art for Social Justice, an installation at the Banana Factory that seeks to shed light on important questions about humanity and generate discussion about criminal justice system. The exhibition, which is presented by Art for Justice, The Moravian Church’s Eastern District, Moravian Seminary and ArtsQuest, runs March 1–April 7 in the Crayola Gallery of the Banana Factory Arts Center, 25 W. Third St., Bethlehem.
“Art can tell stories about the human experience through the lens of an individual deep within the criminal justice system – or prison. Viewing the art can open conversations about collective justice and individual worth in our times,” says Ann Marie Kirk, co-founder of Art for Justice, a nonprofit that brings awareness to challenges in the criminal justice system through the art of prisoners. “I understand that fairness for all people is made possible – or not possible – through the criminal justice system and other structures and institutions of society.
“The criminal justice system, as acknowledged by many in our country, is broken. My hope is that those who behold this exhibit will be enriched personally by the experience and will also look for ways to engage constructively in their communities and the issues of our times.”
The idea of bringing this exhibition to the community was born two years ago during a church gathering involving 47 Moravian East Coast churches. According to Calvary Moravian Church Pastor Janel Rice, the Moravian Church viewed the exhibition as an opportunity to transform the way people see the incarcerated and to engage in the reforms that their art and stories call for.
“Art for Justice seemed to be the perfect partner and a way to share the gift of art of the incarcerated with not only just the 14 Moravian churches in the Lehigh Valley, but the entire community,” Rice says. “We hope that this exhibit will begin or continue a conversation between our faith and our practices of love and justice in the lives of the incarcerated and in the movements for criminal justice reform.”
Art for Justice aims to raise awareness and generate conversation about flaws in the criminal justice system by displaying art made by prisoners. Since 1997, Art for Justice has held exhibitions at more than 100 venues and events. The organization was co-founded by Charles Zafir Lawson, a visual artist sentenced to life without parole, and Kirk, an artist, teacher and social worker who earned the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award in 2008 for her efforts toward social change.
As part of the Art for Social Justice exhibition, individuals affected by failures in the criminal justice system will share their stories at the following special events:
March 1, 1:45 p.m.,
First Friday, Banana Factory
Speaker: Ann Marie Kirk, Art for Justice
March 19, 7 p.m.
Lecture at Moravian College’s Prosser Auditorium
Speaker: Tyrone Werts, Soros Fellow, Pennsylvania lifer commuted by Gov. Rendell.
Free, please register at: www.moravianseminary.edu/academics/continuingeducation
March 24, 2-4 p.m.
Vigil for Hope in the Criminal Justice System at the Banana Factory
Keynote speaker: Chester Hollman, Jr.
Telling the story of his son Chester Hollman III’s wrongful conviction and sentence of life without parole in Pennsylvania.
“We’re excited to partner with Art for Justice, Moravian Church and Moravian Seminary on this powerful exhibition that sheds light on a topic that isn’t often discussed,” says ArtsQuest Sr. Director of Visual Arts Stacie Brennan. “As a community-based arts center, one of our primary focuses is to showcase artists and exhibitions that prompt people to stop and think about issues that are impacting our society. This show highlights some of the major issues affecting our criminal justice system, but more importantly it encourages the community to come together and start a dialogue that fosters change.”