Home » The House that Herman Built: Jackie Sumell in Toronto

The House that Herman Built: Jackie Sumell in Toronto

“To build this house is to build my soul.” – Herman Wallace


Herman Wallace. Image: blacktalkradio.com

Last night we went to hear Jackie Sumell talk at Prefix ICA. Introduced by Kenneth Montague of Wedge Curatorial Projects, Sumell spoke about her fascinating art project, The House that Herman Built. For a number of years, Sumell, a Brooklyn-born, New Orleans-based artist has been corresponding with Herman Wallace, an inmate – in solitary confinement – in the Louisiana State Penitentiary for over 36 years.

Solitary confinement at the prison consists of spending a minimum of 23 hours a day in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell.

Herman Wallace is one of the Angola Three, along with Robert King and Albert Woodfox, members of the Black Panther Party who organized a prison chapter of the party in order to desegregate the prison, and organized strikes for improved conditions.


Artist and activist Jackie Sumell. Image: grassroots.org


Herman Wallace’s dream house as drawn by Jackie Sumell. Image: nytimes.com

In 2003 the activist/artist Jackie Sumell asked Herman a very simple question:
“WHAT KIND OF HOUSE DOES A MAN WHO HAS LIVED IN A 6′ X9′ BOX FOR OVER 30 YEARS DREAM OF? ”

Last night, Sumell spoke about interruption, and how it’s necessary not just to accept the status quo, but to actively interrupt it.

Everyone who has awareness…has the responsibility to act on it,” said Sumell. How true this is.


Herman Wallace’s drawing of his cell, from a letter to Jackie Sumell. Image: solitarywatch.com

What’s interesting about the project is how Sumell has enabled Wallace to live outside of the prison through his imagination. Imagining is the first step toward achieving, and currently Jackie Sumell and Herman Wallace are fundraising to build Hermans’ dream home in the city of New Orleans, where Herman grew up. It will be used as a community centre.

In addition, a documentary film is being made by independent film maker Angad Bhalla, about the project.

To see the trailer, click HERE.

Read an article on the project from the New York Times, HERE.

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