jackie sumell

Multidisciplinary Artist and Prison Abolitionist

Grantee Cohort Spring 2020

Location New Orleans, LA

jackie sumell is a multidisciplinary artist and prison abolitionist working at the intersection of art, activism and education for nearly 20 years. Her collaboration with Herman Wallace, who was wrongfully imprisoned in Louisiana and sent to solitary confinement for 41 years, was the subject of the Emmy-winning documentary “Herman’s House.” Her public art work, “The Solitary Gardens,” uses the tools of permaculture and transformative justice to facilitate exchanges between people in solitary confinement and volunteer proxies on the “outside.” It asks all involved to imagine a landscape without prisons.

With support from Art for Justice, jackie is taking “The Prisoner’s Apothecary” on tour. The “Apothecary” collaborates with “Solitary Gardens” to offer free plant medicine and healing justice workshops to communities most affected by mass incarceration. Apothecary’s workshops illustrate the important connections between prison abolition and radical vitalism: a framework for interpreting and responding to illness that asks us to consider a larger picture. These workshops make the case for intersectionality, healing justice and organizing around vital growth with the planet.

With her latest grant, jackie sumell partnered with fellow Art For Justice grantee partners Maria Gaspar, Titus Kaphar and Shaun Leonardo, and a nonprofit coalition of more 80 artists known as In Plain Sight, to create imaginative public artworks to make visible America’s indistinguishable response to immigration and crime: incarceration. This project of solidarity asks artists from diverse perspectives and specialized in various media to focus their attention on migrant detention. Works include sky “typing” of messages over detention centers and sale of IPS custom-designed local food favorites.