Growing Abolition: Jackie sumell and the Lower Eastside Girls Club

April 23, 2022
October 10, 2022
MoMA PS1 Courtyard, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Queens, NY 11101
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The second year of a collaboration between jackie sumell, the Lower Eastside Girls Club, and MoMA PS1, Growing Abolition is a multipart project investigating connections between ecology and prison abolition. Developing gradually from spring to winter, Growing Abolition unfolds around a greenhouse designed by sumell and installed in the side Courtyard of PS1. An offshoot of sumell’s celebrated Solitary Gardens project, the greenhouse is scaled to the footprint of a solitary confinement cell from a maximum security prison. Transforming a space of confinement into one of possibility, the greenhouse offers occasion for both growing and learning: through plantings, conversations, and workshops, sumell and a group of interns from the Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC) explore questions such as: What can plants teach us about abolition, healing, and expanding our horizons of possibility? What does abolition have to do with natural building? Reflecting on a history of community gardens in New York City (a history connected to that of the LESGC), the project also considers how urban gardens can exist as expressions of love, as much as resistance. Each plant grown by sumell and the girls carries with it history and politics—symbolisms, medicinal uses, and cultural legacies—that teach us about the persistence of radical ecology.

Growing Abolition will expand organically over the spring and summer, both within the museum’s courtyard walls and beyond. Plants will grow and be added; vines will creep up the courtyard’s concrete walls; and seedlings will find new homes in community gardens throughout the city. Through a series of workshops in the spring and summer, sumell and the LESGC interns will create seed packets and seedlings, some of which will be transferred and donated to neighboring gardens in Queensbridge Houses and other local sites. Seed packets will also be available for visitors to the museum to take away. The project culminates in an installation designed by the LESGC girls in PS1’s Homeroom in September 2022.

Growing Abolition is presented as part of Life Between Buildings a group exhibition running from June 2, 2022 - January 16, 2023. Inspired by the history of community gardening, Life Between Buildings reflects on how artists have engaged interstitial spaces of New York City through an ecological lens, from the 1970s through present day.

jackie sumell’s work, anchored at the intersection of abolition, art, social practice, permaculture, and contemplative studies, has been exhibited extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe. She has spent the last two decades working directly with incarcerated folx, most notably, her elders Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King—collectively known as the Angola 3. sumell has been the recipient of multiple residencies and fellowships including: Art Matters Fellowship & Joan Mitchell Studio Fellowship, Art for Justice Fellowship, S.O.U.R.C.E. Fellowship, Creative Capital Grant, A Blade of Grass Fellowship, MSU’s Critical Race Studies Fellowship, Robert Rauschenberg Artist-as-Activist Fellowship, Soros Justice Fellowship, Eyebeam Project Fellowship, and a Schloss Solitude Residency Fellowship. sumell’s work invites us to imagine a landscape without prisons. She is based in New Orleans, Louisiana where she continues to work on Herman's House, Solitary Gardens, The Prisoner’s Apothecary+, and several other community generated, advocacy-based projects.

The Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC) supports young women and gender-expansive youth of color throughout New York City in leveraging their inner power to shape a better future for themselves, their community, and the world. Through free, year-round, innovative programming they connect young people with their passions, celebrate their curiosity, and channel their creative energy. Together, they are building a just and equitable future filled with “Joy. Power. Possibility.”

Growing Abolition has been an ongoing project with many collaborators: it was developed with Kelly Webb, Project Lead, Erikka James, Program Oversight / Director of Programs, Lower Eastside Girls, and Jennifer Lee, Gardening Instructor, of The Lower Eastside Girls Club. Guest artists Nanibah Chacon, Joseph Capeheart, and Danielle Flowers participated in conversations and art-making with the 2021 LESGC interns, and the girls drew inspiration from conversations and co-created podcasts with Sophia Dawson, Joseph Capehart, Timothy James Young, and Mariame Kaba. More information on the process will be part of the Growing Abolition activation in Homeroom in September 2022.


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