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New art exhibit on Chicago's South Side showcases works from inmates serving life sentences

New art exhibit in Bridgeport feature works from inmates serving life sentences
New art exhibit in Bridgeport feature works from inmates serving life sentences 03:49

CHICAGO (CBS) — Artists will have their works showcased in a new exhibit in Bridgeport. Those behind the works are inmates who are serving life sentences. 

The art collectively tells a story about humanity in the face of incarceration.

Guests who attend the exhibit will be greeted with a purposeful beginning to a discussion about the people who have been sentenced to a lifetime of incarceration.

Alice Kim, who curated the space, is a prison educator and director of the University of Chicago's Center for the study of Race, Politics, and Culture. The exhibition is called "More Beautiful, More Terrible: Humans of Life Row."

She says the idea of the exhibit is to shine a light on those who have disappeared from their communities and neighborhoods.

"You see their stories throughout this exhibition; some of the artworks were created by artists on the outside, and some were created by people who are incarcerated themselves," Kim said.

"Based on a quote by James Baldwin, and the idea is that we who were incarcerated or formerly incarcerated wanted to show everyone our humanity," said Jimmy Soto, artist.

Kim aggregated her students' words, paintings, and mixed media art from the men's prison in Statesville to the Logan Correctional Center for female and trans inmates. It also features works of those who survived life row, including Soto, who was exonerated of a wrongful conviction last year after spending 42 years in prison.

"There is this constant depiction that people who go into prison that they are dehumanized, so the idea is to showcase that we are still human beings," he said.

Fellow artist Renaldo Hudson shared the same idea.

"When our art is able to excel beyond the wall, into a space where people begin to see us as human because it's called the "Humans of Life Row," not the convicts and the inmates that make it easy to throw us away," he said.

Around the corner from Soto's art, Hudson's piece hangs bright and peaceful, creating imagery to a poem written by one of the female inmates at Logan.

After 37 years in prison, 13 of which were spent on death row, Hudson's been advocating for those serving life sentences since his clemency approval and subsequent release in 2020.

"These spaces are vitally important because it says our humanity won't be lost behind a prison wall, and people care to hear our voices. And I believe that," Hudson said.

Illinois eliminated the death penalty in 2011, making way for a different death by incarceration — natural life sentencing, or referred to as life row.  

The "More Beautiful, More Terrible" exhibition is co-sponsored by the prison neighborhood arts/education project and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture's Beyond Prisons initiative.

The space is open Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment at the Co-Prosperity space in Bridgeport.

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