Mother's Art Brings Attention to Wrongly Convicted Young Men
1 year ago
Her son, No Limit rapper "Mac," is serving 30 years
As the date approaches for the 10th anniversary of her son’s conviction, Sheila Phipps is hard at work completing a powerful and moving series of paintings that tell the stories of wrongly-convicted young men in the U.S. prison system.
Phipps, a self-taught artist in New Orleans, has been selling and displaying her work for more than 20 years. Her son is Mckinley “Mac” Phipps, the legendary New Orleans rapper who was convicted of manslaughter in 2001 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In collaboration with the Innocence Project, Phipps contacted prisoners across the nation and researched their cases. Once she read enough evidence to convince her of their innocence, she communicated with the prisoner and then painted an image of them.
Now, Phipps is unveiling a series of ten works, for a show called the Injustice Exhibition. Her use of color and framing varies with the inspiration, ranging from muted portraits to bright explosions of color, often capturing small details like focusing on a subject’s feet or hands. In the portrait of her son she highlights the gentle features of his face.
Seeing her son locked away caused Phipps’ to use her art in another way, as both activism and as release.
“To be honest I didn’t know what else to do,” says Phipps. “I’ve had four lawyers. One of the lawyers said she don’t even think the judges read the appeals we’ve written.” The hope is that her art will wake up people to the lives being wasted in prison, -- not only her sons’, but all lives.
“Art is a way to express yourself,” she says. “So why not express yourself by raising awareness?” Phipps started painting in the 1980s, using art as a way to relax from the strain of raising her six children. She quickly caught the attention of Sandra Berry who runs the Neighborhood Gallery, a New Orleans arts institution.
“Her work is absolutely wonderful,” says Berry. “There is a sensitivity and a mother-like compassion in her work that she brings to every subject.”
The subject for whom Phipps’ compassion is most concentrated, her son “Mac,” started rapping at the age of seven. At 11, his talents won him a contest held at New Orleans’ Superdome, for which he won a record deal. He released his first album, featuring production work by former Cash Money Records artist Mannie Fresh at age 12. His collaborations with artists like Master P., Snoop Dogg, and Mystikal led to a streetbuzz as one of the hottest artists coming out the South.