Finding art behind prison walls

“Eastern State Penitentiary looks hundreds of years old… like it’s from medieval times,” said Eric Okdeh, who teaches art at astate prison.

“But one of the guys in my class at Graterford was in Eastern State. It’s not that far removed.”

Okdeh is one of the artists who have installed work at the world’s first penitentiary for a new show.

Four paintings by Okdeh’s students, out of a series of 35 called “Beyond the Wall,”depictingdiverse individuals affected by incarceration issues, are hung on a wall near the prison’s former baseball field.

Jesse Krimes, who served 70 months in prison, recreated a surreal wall mural inside an Eastern State cell that he originally made on prison bedsheets using hair gel and a spoon to rub images from the New York Times into the sheets.

He described it as a vision of “heaven, earth, and hell” that he created as a “subversive” act to take control of his environment.

Ruth Scott Blackson re-imagined the peeling paint of an Eastern State cell with peels of gold enamel, saying the origins of the work went back to the concept of a penitentiary as a place where prisoners were sent to become “penitent or enlightened.”

“I can imagine the relationship between the person and the wall. There’s something created there,” she said.

The new show will be open to the public during a free reception beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Eastern State Penitentiary at 2027 Fairmount Ave and will be open after that.

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