What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6' x 9' prison cell for over 35 years dream of?
This question became the starting point for a collaborative project between American artist and activist, Jackie Sumell and prisoner Herman Wallace. For the past six years Sumell and Wallace have shared a written correspondence that has led to the project and exhibition THE HOUSE THAT HERMAN BUILT. Their ongoing conversation has produced sketches, plans, architectural blueprints and models, a replica of Wallace's prison cell and an animated video of his imagined house. From the outset, Sumell has been raising awareness and is now fundraising to actually build the house in Wallace's hometown of New Orleans. Wallace, along with his friends Albert Woodfox and Robert "King" Wilkerson were originally imprisoned in Louisiana State Penitentiary (also known as Angola prison) for their involvement in unrelated robberies. In 1971 the three men - known collectively as the Angola 3 - formed a chapter of the Black Panther Party, which resulted in improved conditions for prisoners. The Louisiana State Penitentiary was once a slave plantation and was known as one of the most brutal, violent and racially segregated prisons in America. In 1972 whilst serving their sentences, Wallace and Woodfox were accused of killing a prison officer; they have subsequently spent 36 years in solitary confinement. Both men have maintained their innocence and their controversial conviction for murder has been highly contested. Robert King Wilkerson was released in 2001 whilst Wallace and Woodfox remain incarcerated. This high-profile legal case was supported by the late Dame Anita Roddick. Since Roddick's death, her husband Gordon and daughter Sam are continuing to actively campaign for the men's release from prison. Jackie Sumell is specifically concerned with the experience of Wallace and Woodfox in prison. The project investigates the relationships between activism, art, architecture and design, and in particular the role of the artist as activist. At the same time it resonates with the historic legacies of civil rights and political activism in the 1960s, as well as current concerns about prison overcrowding. This is the first time that THE HOUSE THAT HERMAN BUILT has been presented in the UK. The project is organised by students from the Royal College of Art's Curating Contemporary Art MA as part of the
London Festival of Architecture.
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