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Pittsburgh Art Show Benefits Prisoner Advocacy

Josh Inklovich knows what it’s like to be in prison. And he wants to help others avoid the same fate.

"Glow Home: Illuminating RelationSHIPS" opens with reception and auction 6-10 p.m. Fri., Oct. 4. Continues through Oct. 26. BOOM Concepts, 5139 Penn Ave., Garfield

Inklovich, 43, said that as a teenager and young adult he spent eight years locked up for offenses including burglary and auto theft. Following his release, 20 years ago, he was in a position to employ the formerly incarcerated. He’s also interested in working with at-risk youth.

And this week, in his role as artist, he’s doing his bit for “Glow Home: Illuminating RelationSHIPS.” The art show is a benefit for Let’s Get Free: The Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, a Pittsburgh-based group that advocates for prisoners.

The show at Boom Concepts, in Garfield, includes about 100 works by some 60 artists, about 15 of whom are women currently behind bars, said Etta Cetera, curator of the show and a co-founder of Let’s Get Free. The group is primarily active in Pennsylvania and centers women and trans people in its work, though it advocates for all prisoners by organizing workshops, rallies, film screenings and more on issues like expanding parole eligibility for inmates serving life sentences.

Credit Courtesy of Let's Get Free
Courtesy of Let's Get Free
"Banderas Rojas," by Fernando Marti, is a work in the show.

“‘Glow Home’ is an homage to friends old and new recently released from prison, and a creative prayer that our loved ones still behind bars will be home soon,” she said.

The group was created in 2013, she said, to advocate for women like Avis Lee and Charmaine Pfender, both of whom have been incarcerated for more than 30 years, for crimes that happened in their late teens. Lee was lookout for a robbery that resulted in a death. Pfender killed a man in what she claims was self-defense during an attempted rape. Both women were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Glow Home” includes works in all media, from painting on leaves to textiles, beadwork and digital drawing. Artists were encouraged to make works that played on the idea of “ships” and to make work that glowed. Inklovich’s contribution is a wooden table lamp titled “Free Your Mind,” with designs laser-cut into each of its 12 faces.

“I had the opportunity to donate a piece to be auctioned off to support a group of people that have very little voice in our society,” said Inklovich.

Inklovich said that after prison, he found work with a company that applied industrial coatings to steel, where he ended up hiring former inmates. Today, aside from making art, he works in urban agriculture and in developing artificial intelligence to make the food system more efficient.

Credit Courtesy of Let's Get Free
Courtesy of Let's Get Free
Inklovich's "Free Your MInd" is a lamp made from laser-cut birch wood.

He said he bought art at each of the first two Let’s Get Free art benefits.

“I see the American prison industrial complex as one of the most unjust, racist systems in America,” he said. “And when we look at unjustness and racism, populations that are most afflicted are women of color and transgender people of color.”

“Glow Home” opens Friday with a reception and auction.

Programming throughout its run includes: the Oct. 12 workshop Liberate our Imaginations: A Vital Step Towards a World Without Prisons, with organizer Kempis Ghani Songster, of Ubuntu Philadelphia; and an Oct. 19 program featuring Naomi Blount, an activist who received commutation after serving 35 years of a life sentence.