The twisting and contorting bodies of prisoners are trapped in one corner of the mural, as a phoenix unfurls its vast, bright-orange wings, drawing the eyes upward. Vivid memories from past and present incarcerated convicts haunt the bottom of the portrait. In the middle, a clock showcases the time left in jail and hints of hope for a future shown above, with teachers shaking hands and passing diplomas off to smiling graduating students.
The mural, “From Incarceration to Liberation,” is a collaboration between SF State’s Project Rebound and the True Colors Mural Project of Berkeley City College. It was unveiled Thursday from 5-8 p.m. at the ASI Art Gallery in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, and the exhibition will run from Dec. 4 through Jan. 28. It aims to represent a new approach to crime and incarceration in the United States. The mural combines the visions of those with first-hand experience and knowledge of life inside the U.S. prison system.
The mural project started as a collaboration inspired by the passing of former SF State professor and creator of Project Rebound John Irwin in 2010, according to Jason Bell, director of the organization.
Project Rebound, which was created by Irwin in 1967, is a program dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated students reintegrate themselves into a college environment. According to Project Rebound’s website, their focus is on using “education as an alternative to incarceration” and “turning former prisoners to scholars.”
“After John Irwin passed away, we always said that we would do something in his legacy,” Bell said. ”We created an endowment scholarship and the mural was always in the back of my mind. We have been working on it the last two years with a famous muralist named Juana Alicia Araiza.”
Araiza, director of True Colors, said she created the mural project with SF State student Yazmin Madriz, whom she had known for over 20 years.
“This was something that was close to my heart in terms of dealing with the consequences of a defunded public education system and seeing the money poured into incarcerating my family members, my students and marginalized youth all over the country,” Araiza said.
The inspiration for the mural came in November 2013, when Madriz learned about Project Rebound from one of their interns. Madriz had a friend who was incarcerated at the time, so she reached out to the program for a possible art project, and they told her to submit a proposal.
“I love that attitude about this program: ‘You got an idea, let’s do it,’” Madriz said. “Just like they had an idea to better their lives, and they did it.”
Artist Sonia Molina, a 24-year-old SF State student, worked on drawing prison cells for the mural.
“The themes of the mural touch close to home,” Molina said. “I have friends who have been to prison and have definitely been affected by it. There were some issues with the new art policy for SF State funding the approval. Today we’re hoping to get our funding and get it up there.”
Lina Savage, a 21-year-old studio arts major at SF State, was another artist who collaborated on the mural.
“The figures in the mural represent those who have taken part in the cultivation of Project Rebound and what it stands for,” Savage said. “Whether it be the one individual who we don’t really have a name for, or represents the people who have come through. It means all the people who have taken an effort and who have made change.”