Jesse Krimes

Jesse Krimes is a Philadelphia based artist and curator whose work explores how contemporary media shapes and reinforces societal mechanisms of power and control, with a particular focus of criminal and racial justice. While serving a six-year prison sentence he produced and smuggled out numerous bodies of work, established prison art programs, and formed artist collectives. After his release, he co-founded Right of Return USA, the first national fellowship dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated artists.

Krimes’ work has been exhibited at venues including the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA PS1, Palais de Tokyo, Philadelphia Museum of Art, International Red Cross Museum, Newport Art Museum, Zimmerli Museum, ICA San Jose, and Aperture Gallery. He was awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Creative Capital, Art for Justice Fund, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Independence Foundation, Captiva Residency, and Vermont Studio Center.

Krimes work is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Kadist Foundation, Bunker Artspace, OZ Art NWA, and the Agnes Gund Collection. In addition to his independent practice, he successfully led a class-action lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase for their predatory practice of charging people released from federal prison exorbitant fees.

He has received public commissions from Amnesty International, Eastern State Penitentiary, and Mural Arts Philadelphia. Krimes established and curated Reimagining Reentry, a citywide public art project with Mural Arts Philadelphia and corresponding exhibition Rendering Justice, at the African American Museum of Philadelphia in 2020. He also curated HBO’s OG Experience, an exhibition connected with the release of the film “OG,” featuring more than twenty formerly incarcerated artists in 2019.

Right of Return Project

Rikers Quilt

The Rikers Quilt was a mobile monument where people could engage with the violent history of policing and the jail, contemplate the devastating costs of waiting another decade to close the facility, and connect demands to defund police with City Council’s decision to spend more than 10 billion dollars on “more humane” jails.

The 20’ by 34’ quilt is comprised of 3,650 prison bed sheet squares— one for each day of harm inflicted over ten years. The quilt’s interior features images of wounds and abuse inflicted by police and correctional officers. Representational and abstracted imagery on the quilt’s surface includes idealized renderings of the new jails. The bedsheets produced by incarcerated labor reference the prison industrial complex and the function of hiding and covering incarcerated bodies. When the surface is cut and torn open during a participatory community process, it exposed the images hidden beneath.

For decades, Rikers Island has left physical and psychological wounds on poor, Black and Brown communities. The billions of dollars invested in jails and policing are meant to deliver “public safety,” positioning punishment and enforcement as a first-response to social problems. The quilt serves as a calendar that is slashed open to reveal the fallacy of this narrative. Over time, the Rikers Quilt transforms from an idealized rendering of “more humane cages,” to a wounded, decaying, and scarred surface—simultaneously marking historical harm and foreshadowing a continued cycle of violence. The quilt was deployed in a large, highly-visible public action in partnership with people directly impacted by racist systems of violence and punishment. They slashed through the quilt’s surface, pull out the cotton batting to reveal hidden wounds, and made personal proclamations that were be broadcast over MoMA PS1’s social media to its 644 thousand followers. The project was unveiled as a public action outside of the NY Supreme Court House in partnership with MoMA PS1.

Participating collaborators included HALT Solitary, representatives from G.L.I.T.S. Inc., Purelegacee, Coalition for Women Prisoners, ACLU TX, Massachusetts Against Solitary, Interfaith Actions for Human Rights, Stop Solitary Connecticut, Abolition Law Center, New Jersey Campaign Against Longterm Isolation, California Bail Project, RestoreHer, Southern Center for Human Rights, Louisiana Stop Solitary Coalition, National Religious Campaign Against Torture to highlight the devastating effects of solitary confinement.