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Alive From Death Row


2003
Acrylic, Oil, Collage on Canvas
36" x 48"

I first learned about political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal while taking a graduate course at Cornell University, "Writing Resistance: Third World and Minority Prisoner Discourses". One of the assigned texts was Live From Death Row, by Mumia. In 1997, after graduating from Cornell, I moved to Philadelphia, the heart of Mumia's struggle.

As a young kid Mumia had experienced the impact of racism. By his early teenage years, he was already a member of the Black Panther Party.

A journalist by profession, he exposed injustices against black people and other disenfranchised people, earning the name "the Voice of the Voiceless." He was also introduced to the struggles of the MOVE organization and the teachings of MOVE founder, John Africa. His leadership and activism had already made him a target for FBI surveillance when he one day found his brother in a run-in with the police and stopped to help him. Mumia Abu Jamal was sentenced to death in 1982, accused of murdering a cop. During his trial, it was revealed that the FBI had been keeping track of him since his early teen years when he was already a member and officer of the Black Panther Party, Philadelphia Chapter. Revolutionary statements that he had made when he was just 16 were brought up at his trial-- thus defining him as a political prisoner--tried not only for accusations that he had murdered someone, but for his political convictions. In addition to evidence having been tampered with during the trial, witnesses have come forward to say they were bribed by police to testify against him. Judge Sabo, who sentenced Mumia to death is known to have delivered more death sentences than any other judge in the country.

Prison bars and a death sentence have not succeeded in silencing "the Voice of the Voiceless." He has written several books and continues to write articles for a variety of publications and conduct interviews. Ironically, the attempted removal of his influence through imprisonment and an intended execution have served to bring his voice to a global scale, rallying support for Mumia throughout the world. With this painting I wanted to create a visual tribute to his endurance and the perseverance of all those who have struggled for his release. Mumia in his contemplative pose gazes at newspaper clippings (written by him or about him), flyers for fundraisers, stickers and other literature from his struggle. (With gratitude to songwriter Not4Prophet for Ricanstruction's song with this title "Alive from death row" and for contributing images/ text for the collage in this work). Behind these are the prison bars to suggest that we are in the cell with him, observing the struggle from his perspective. This is the sense I got in reading his texts. Mumia writes not about rallying support for his release, but about the conditions of our people in general. He writes as a man, as a father and as a human being.

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