jackie sumell (Lives in New Orleans) is a multidisciplinary artist and abolitionist inspired by the lives of everyday people. Her work is anchored at the intersection of activism, education, and art. Her 12 year correspondence and collaboration with political prisoner Herman Wallace, who was held in solitary confinement for over 40 years, led to The House that Herman Built. The project is the subject of the Emmy Award Winning documentary Herman’s House, 2013. Sumell’s practice explores the intersection of creative practices, mindfulness studies, social sculpture, and the principles of The Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
Herman Wallace is one of the Angola Three: three African American men who were held for decades in solitary confinement in the Louisiana State Penitentiary (also known as Angola Prison). For forty-one years he was held as retaliation for his activism and involvement with the Black Panther Party. Artist jackie sumell asked him, over thirty years into his sentence, to imagine the house of his dreams as part of a campaign to call attention to his plight. Through a twelve-year correspondence, Wallace and sumell developed intricate details for his dream home. In this installation, sumell presents a replica of Wallace’s solitary cell based on his sketches and measurements, along with a selection of their correspondence, an architectural model of the house they collaboratively designed, and the library of books that Wallace requested. In 2013, when Wallace was in the end stages of terminal cancer, a judge overturned his conviction, and he passed away a free man, surrounded by friends and supporters. Together the model, letters, and library bear witness to the intellectual and political legacy of Wallace and stand in contrast to the inhumane constraints of the system that imprisoned him but could not contain his imagination.
Solitary Garden at UC Santa Cruz is a participatory public sculpture and garden project by award-winning artist jackie sumell in collaboration with Tim Young, who is currently on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison, fighting to prove his innocence in the California appellate court system. The sculpture follows the blueprint of a 6’x9’ U.S. solitary confinement cell and is surrounded by a garden which Tim designed via letters and drawings to students and volunteers, who cultivate it as his proxies.
jackie sumell’s work has been exhibited extensively throughout the US and Europe including at the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore; Brooklyn Library Main Branch; The Royal College of Art, London; Artist's Space, New York City, Akademie Schloss-Solitude,Stuttgart, Germany; St Etienne Biennial, France; Alternator Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia; Prospect 1, New Orleans; and ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. Her residencies and awards include 2017 Blade of Grass-David Rockefeller Fund Joint Fellow in Criminal Justice, 2016 Robert Rauschenberg Artist-As-Activist Fellowship, 2015 Eyebeam Project Fellowship, and 2008 Akademie Solitude Fellowship. An ardent public speaker and prison abolitionist, sumell has lectured in colleges and universities around the US including UC Berkeley (BAMPFA), RISD, and as keynote for the National Prisoner Advocacy Conference 2014.