What does justice mean to you?
James “Yaya” Hough was the inaugural Artist-in-Residence at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Hough is a renowned painter who developed and augmented his artistic talents while serving a once-life sentence at Philadelphia’s Graterford State Correctional Institution. Incarcerated in 1992 at age 17, he took art classes and contributed to over 50 murals installed outside of the walls of the prison through Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice program. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison in 2012, he was resentenced and released in 2019.
During his residency, Hough worked to humanize people living and working within systems of criminal justice by cultivating relationships and connections through his artmaking. He worked with individuals from several overlapping circles – formerly incarcerated people, victims’ advocates, and members of the District Attorney’s office – painting them in portraits and discussing as a group what justice means to them. These portraits, titled “Points of Connection”, and the resulting conversations from small group salons, provided a window into the larger system, person by person, to approach criminal justice from perspectives of transformation, repair, and growth.
To mark the completion of his residency, Hough’s portraits were publicly exhibited at key sites of justice in Center City including: the District Attorney’s office, City Hall, Municipal Services Building, Eastern State Penitentiary, and CJC Courthouse. Smaller printed keepsake versions of the portraits were packaged as a portable exhibition, available for free at special events and by postal mail, and delivered to every municipal office, criminal justice site, and selected schools throughout Philadelphia.
This first its kind residency program is ongoing, focusing on the power of storytelling and coalition-building to change the way we make justice and art together.