In fall of 2019 the Institute of the Arts and Sciences will work with artist jackie sumell to build a Solitary Garden on UC Santa Cruz campus. This project calls for an end to the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement while building connection with those incarcerated.
Solitary confinement is one of the pressing problems within our broken criminal justice system. A 2018 survey performed by the Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale Law School estimated that there are 61,000 people held in isolation in U.S. prisons. These individuals are in solitary cells for 22-24 hours a day, with extremely limited human contact, a practice that the UN has condemned as torture.
jackie sumell began the Solitary Gardens project to honor the legacy of political prisoner Herman Wallace, who was held in solitary confinement for over 40 years and with whom jackie corresponded and collaborated for 12 years. Each Solitary Garden flower bed is based on the layout of Wallace’s 6 x 9 foot cell and is built with a blend of sugarcane, cotton, tobacco and indigo. By using these crops that were historically grown on U.S. plantations by the labor of enslaved people, the project draws the connections between the system of chattel slavery and our current prison industrial complex.
The garden plantings at UC Santa Cruz will be designed by a person currently in solitary confinement in communication with a UC Santa Cruz team of collaborators who will provide written updates about the garden’s progress and ask for new planting suggestions as the seasons change. As the garden grows from within the structures of confinement and the bed decomposes over time, the piece invites participants to imagine a fertile and vibrant landscape without prisons.
jackie sumell is a multidisciplinary artist inspired by the lives of everyday people. Her work speaks to both traditional artist communities and those historically marginalized by structural racism. sumell’s work has been exhibited extensively throughout the US and Europe. 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, ZKM Karlsruhe, and as keynote for the National Prisoner Advocacy Conference 2014. Her collaborative work with Herman Wallace, The House That Herman Built, is the subject of the Emmy Award Winning documentary Herman’s House, screened to a national audience on PBS in 2013. sumell’s work explores the intersection of creative practices, mindfulness studies, social sculpture, and the principles of The Black Panther Party for Self Defense.