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The Solitary Gardens
Solitary Gardens
Current location
New Orleans, LA
Year(s) of residency and/or fellowship
201516, Project Resident
Jackie Sumell, Romi Morrison, Abigail Phillips, Imani Jacqueline Brown

Bryan Stevenson articulates that slavery did not end in 1865, it evolved. The US maintains 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. The 13th Amendment made an exception to slavery for those “duly convicted of a crime.” US prisons are filled with people of color “duly convicted of a crime” at a rate 5 times higher than whites. More than 80,000 prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement, the practice of indefinitely isolating a prisoner in a 6’x9’ cell. If we consider prisons as solitary confinement within society, then isolation cells are the most concentrated form of our racial bias. The entry of prisons into mainstream consciousness, as with Orange is the New Black shows that the public is finally ready to see prison. The internet, in its ideal sense, provides a cross-cultural window for the world to ask what are relationships of race to online digital space. The SOLITARY GARDENS platform will open a multifaceted window on the PIC and allow anyone to look through it.

The Solitary Gardens are at the intersection of public art and social sculpture. The project will utilize garden beds designed after 6’x9’ solitary cells as a physical platform for collaboration, education, and commiseration between persons subjected to indefinite solitary confinement and volunteers on the “outside”. Critical to the exchange is on the online open-source platform and educational resource that was produced during the Eyebeam residency. makes the reality of the prison industrial complex accessible, while also offering tools for its dismantling by way of the prisoners’ imaginations. The Solitary Gardens platform enables the prisoner to affect not only simply a social media revolution, but a genuine environmental and social transformation with direct community impact, agency, and influence. The garden bed is the hardware to the software.

The Solitary Gardens, are constructed from the byproducts of sugarcane, cotton, tobacco and indigo- the largest chattel slave crops- which we grow on-site, exposing the illusion that slavery was abolished in the United States. The Solitary Gardens utilize the tools of prison abolition, permaculture, contemplative practices, and transformative justice to facilitate exchanges between persons subjected to solitary confinement and volunteer proxies on the “outside.” The beds are “gardened” by prisoners, known as Solitary Gardeners, through written exchanges, growing calendars and design templates. As the garden beds mature, the prison architecture is overpowered by plant life, proving that nature—like hope, love, and imagination—will ultimately triumph over the harm humans impose on ourselves and on the planet.

The Gardens are both a park in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and several host garden sites across the country where volunteer individuals, groups, and nonprofits facilitate their own exchanges with those condemned to isolation in America’s prisons. The Solitary Gardens is a social sculpture and collaborative project that cultivates conversations around alternatives to incarceration by catalyzing compassion. This project directly and metaphorically asks us to imagine a landscape without prisons.

Eyebeam Project Resident (2015- 2016): To Scale Project Residency

This work was exhibited at Eyebeam’s former space in Industry City, in a group exhibition, titled “To Scale” from May 14th – 26th, 2016.
Eyebeam opened its studios to the public for a two-week show of recent projects exploring concepts of scale. These projects, the result of six months of research, share an ability to switch with ease from the view up close to the distant perspective.Whether shifting scale through physical size, optical resolution, biological complexity or political organizing, they show that reality can seem totally different depending on context or even viewpoint. The world is not flat, but round like a lens.

About the Collaborators:

Jackie Sumell (b. 1973, Brooklyn, NY, based in New Orleans, LA, She/her) is an American multidisciplinary artist and activist whose work interrogates the abuses of the American criminal justice system. She is best known for her collaborative project with the late Herman Wallace, one of the former Angola 3 prisoners, entitled The House That Herman Built. This project is the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary film aired on PBS entitled Herman’s House.

Sumell is a 2007 Akademie Schloss Solitude Fellow, a 2013 Open Society Soros Justice Fellow, a 2015 Nathan Cummings Foundation Recipient, a 2015 Eyebeam Project Fellow, and a 2016 Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellow.

Sumell received a Bachelor of Science from the College of Charleston in 1996. She received a Post-Baccalaureate degree from San Francisco Art Institute (2001) and a Master of Fine Arts in New Practices from Stanford University in 2004.


Romi Ron Morrison (They/them, Based in Los Angeles and Berlin, Germany) is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher, and educator.  Their work investigates the personal, political, ideological, and spatial boundaries of race, ethics, and social infrastructure within digital technologies. Using maps, data, sound, performance, and video, their installations center Black diasporic technologies that challenge the demands of an increasingly quantified world—reducing land into property, people into digits, and knowledge into data.

Morrison has exhibited work and given talks at numerous exhibitions, conferences, and workshops around the world including Transmediale (Berlin), ALT_CPH Biennial (Copenhagen), the American Institute of Architects (New York), Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Queens Museum (New York), and the Walker Museum of Art. They have been in residence at Eyebeam, New York University (ITP), The Joan Mitchell Foundation, and FemTechNet. Their writing has appeared in publications by MIT Press, University of California Press, Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, and Logic Magazine.

They have taught courses at Parsons School of Design and the University of Southern California (USC). They are currently an Annenberg Ph.D. Fellow in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC in Los Angeles.


Abigail Phillips (She/her) is a landscape architect based in Minneapolis, MN, working to reconcile the benefits of landscape architecture with environmental and social injustices. Her attraction to landscape architecture stems from her experiences working with limited-resource communities in urban environments. Through work with teens living on the street in Tacoma, WA, she recognized the social tolls that urban environments demand if designed without sensitivity. Building school gardens in Jackson, MS, she realized the benefits of engaging people in appropriately-designed, functional, and beautiful outdoor spaces. Abi volunteered to develop the original site design and renderings for Solitary Gardens in 2015. Since then, she has continued to support Solitary Gardens as a consultant, offering botanical guidance for Solitary Gardens seed packets and lending a hand in Solitary Gardens’ 2018 installation at Project Row Houses.  She is fascinated by the impact of place on people and constantly looking to collaborate on socially and ecologically responsible design.


Imani Jacqueline Brown (b. 1988) is an artist, activist, and architectural researcher from New Orleans, based in London. Her work investigates the ‘continuum of extractivism,’ which spans from settler-colonial genocide and slavery to fossil fuel production, gentrification, and police and corporate impunity. In exposing the layers of violence and resistance that form the foundations of US society, she opens up space to imagine paths to ecological reparations.

Imani makes videos and installations, organizes public actions, delivers testimony to organs of the United Nations, occupies billboards, writes polemics, performs lectures, and uses counter-cartographic strategies to map the spatial logics that make geographies, unmake communities, and break Earth’s ecologies. Her work has been presented internationally, including in the US, the UK, Poland, Germany, and the UAE, most recently at the 12th Berlin Biennale.

Among other things, she is currently a PhD candidate at Queen Mary, University of London, a research fellow with Forensic Architecture and an associate lecturer in MA Architecture at the Royal College of Arts.

Press on Imani’s work has been featured in or on The New York TimesThe New York Times Style MagazineArt ForumCNN, NextCity, and more. Her writing has been published in MARCH, a journal of art and strategy, CC:World, a project of Haus der Kulteren der Welt, The Business & Human Rights Resource CentrePelican BombBlok MagazineKrytyka PolitycznaShelterforce Magazine. She has been awarded fellowships through Salzburg Global Seminar’s Young Cultural Innovators and The British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programs. She has participated in artist residencies at the Ujazdowski Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, Poland (2017), The Luminary Arts in St. Louis, MO (2018), and Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin County, CA (2018). Imani was named a ‘visionary’ in the Grist 50 list of 2018.

Imani received her MA with distinction from the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2019, and her BA in Anthropology and Visual Arts from Columbia University in 2010.

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