The writing on the walls

‘Doing Time/Depth of Surface’ exhibit gives a voice to those who passed through the Holmesburg Prison.

The newspaper clippings, sketches and graffiti that once covered the walls of the Northeast’s Holmes­burg Prison are, in many ways, distinctly those of Philadelphia inmates. Yellowed Daily News pages depict Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Ron Hextall celebrating their way through the winter of 1995, while local gang symbols mix with Catholic imagery. Even the cartoons of naked women and etched countdown calendars hint at a Philly inspiration and of a familiar desperation.

 

But Spanish artists Patricia Gomez and Maria Jesus Gonzalez have seen their share of prisons — Holmesburg is the fourth whose crumbling walls they have sought to preserve — and for them, it wasn’t so much the local decor that made an impression.

 

“It’s very similar, the messages of liberty and love, the calendars — these are the same in every prison,” says Gomez. “But this prison was very dark, very different — like a tunnel. Here, we felt that it was a place of punishment. It was very hard to work.”

 

Commissioned by contemporary printmaking collaborative Philagrafika, the “Doing Time/Depth of Surface” exhibit features large-scale prints created from material they lifted from Holmesburg’s formidable walls, which contained inmates from 1896 through 1995.

 

“We want to give a voice to the stories that are hidden from society,” explains Gomez of their work, now on view at The Galleries at Moore College. “They are important in the same way that official history is.”

 
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