Few historical figures represent the history of racist policing and incarceration in Philadelphia stronger than Frank Rizzo. The late mayor and police chief’s legacy of attacks against the Black community, including the local Black Panthers chapter, remains so polarizing that many residents seek to remove or replace public tributes to him.
Now, a pair of formerly incarcerated artists targets the problems Rizzo embodied with “Portraits for Justice,” a new mural project that features portraits of other formerly incarcerated people set on backgrounds that look like brick walls, which symbolize the barriers they face upon reentry.
Local artists Russell Craig and Jesse Krimes created the installation, working with Mural Arts Philadelphia, the arts organization behind many of the city’s murals. Their project’s massive portraits depict 17 people who participate in The Guild, Mural Arts’ paid apprenticeship program for previously incarcerated artists.
The artists installed the portraits around Philadelphia’s Municipal Services Building, which stands adjacent to a controversial statue of Rizzo. Craig says the size and placement aims to symbolically uplift the subjects over the politician.
“I wanted to make them bigger than Rizzo, and to make them think bigger of themselves in these dignified portraits,” Craig told The Associated Press today (October 4), a day after “Portraits of Justice” was unveiled. “Also, in a sense, they are looking down on Rizzo.”
Mural Arts will host an accompanying performance series, featuring other previously incarcerated artists, over the next month.
The installation additionally allows audience members to wipe away the mural’s “bricks” and write their own thoughts on criminal justice reform. The AP notes that Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney and district attorney Larry Krasner wrote “Employment and training” and “End excessive parole and probation,” respectively, during the project’s unveiling.