In response to the disproportionate amount of minorities in the United States prison system’s inmate population, particularly those from the Latino community, visual artist and Temple art professor Pepon Osorio crafted Badge of Honor in 1995. The art installation piece invites viewers to look into two rooms: the bedroom of a teenage boy and an adjacent
prison cell of his incarcerated father. A conversation between the father and son is projected on the walls of each room.
“The piece in itself proves that a work of art and the issues in this piece are still prevalent today,” Osorio said. ” . . . Art has this kind of [infinite] reality that can be effective many, many years from now.”
Now, nine of Osorio’s students are attempting to capture the stories of seven local Philadelphia families who have in some way been affected by incarceration. The students are creating their own installation pieces.
“Twelve years later, I am trying to bring this piece back to the community to find out how the community has responded to the issue of incarceration and where we are in relationship to that,” Osario said.
Titled “Badge of Honor: The Project,” the art collaboration project is a part of the Community Arts Partnership Program in the Tyler School of Art. Students worked closely with members of Las Gallas, a Philadelphia-based multi-disciplinary arts collective and the Centro Pedro Claver, Inc., a Latino community organization
based in North Philadelphia.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2002, compared to their white counterparts at a rate of 649 per 100,000 people, Latino males are incarcerated at a rate of 1,740 per 100,000 citizens.
Photographs of students’ artwork, which were installed in the homes of the families they worked with, along with Osorio’s
original work were unveiled at the project’s opening ceremony last Thursday.
The exhibition is on display through June 8 at The Lighthouse, a historic settlement
house and multicultural community center in Kensington. During the opening ceremony, representatives of Las Galles and the Centro Pedro Claver, Inc., spoke about the effects of incarceration on the community and family life of Latinos in Philadelphia.
Art education major Michelle Mahabee told her assigned family’s story by making a quilt with pictures of the family’s history and images of inspiration.
“It was a tough process, but at the same time it was a learning process,” Mahabee
said, adding that she hopes students, even if they are not in the class, will become involved in the community.
“It’s a great way to realize that you relate to people – no matter what background you’re from, no matter where you grew up, no matter how old you are – that you honestly can relate to people,” she said.
A 15-year Kensington resident, Edgardo
Torres worked with two art students to install a piece in his home. Torres, who has been incarcerated before, said he believes the project can help many people in his community.
“I believe that the people who are here today can see that if we get everybody together, we can do a lot. We can spread the message,” he said. He hopes people will continue to talk about preventing incarceration after seeing the exhibit, he said.
“There is a parallel between all communities of color around the United States,” Osorio said. Even the issues, including incarceration, among minority communities across the country are reflective of each other, he added. With this in mind, the project tried to create a connection between the issues of incarceration in Latino communities and possible solutions, or lack thereof, to address the problem, Osorio said.
Osorio said the triangular relationship that he aimed to create between the father, son and the viewer in his original work was replicated through the interaction between his students, the mentors and the families involved. The relationships formed during the project were “as real as this can get,” Osorio said, adding he expects the bond between the students and families to last for a long time.
Chesney Davis can be reached at email@example.com.