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As part of our current exhibition, Social & Solitary: Reflections on Art, Isolation, and Renewal, the Museum collaborated with the New Orleans-based artist jackie sumell to install one of her “Solitary Garden” beds on our grounds. Volunteers worked with the artist to create the fixtures and plant the garden.
The Solitary Garden project comes to life through correspondence between a volunteer and a currently incarcerated “gardener.” Their letters articulate to the Museum what kinds of flowers or plants are grown in the garden bed. Each Solitary Garden is a gesture of hope connecting an isolated person to the outside world through the restorative act of nurturing plants.
The size and layout of sumell’s 6’ x 9’ plots replicate prison cells, with “fixtures” made from biodegradable materials that will disappear over time as the plants and flowers mature.
The artist focuses her work on the effects of prison and is interested in the empathy the gardens can help cultivate for the incarcerated.
About Solitary Gardens
Artist jackie sumell uses social practice through her national garden initiative to cultivate conversations about incarceration. Her work reveals the experience of solitary confinement and the capacity of art and nature to heal people and society. The Museum’s project, which will be in place through 2023, comes to life through correspondence with an incarcerated “gardener” who is currently serving time in prison. Their letters direct what types of flora volunteers will plant in the garden bed on the “gardener’s” behalf.
Each Solitary Garden is a gesture of hope connecting an isolated person to the outside world through the restorative act of nurturing herbs, vegetables, shrubs, or flowers, some of which will be selected for their connection to Florence Griswold’s garden. The gardens become connective extensions of the jailed person in the community through creative and positive expressions of beauty and healing. The size and layout of sumell’s plots echo prison cells. Each piece includes “fixtures” made from a mixture of sugarcane, cotton, and tobacco—materials tied to “the evolution of chattel slavery into mass incarceration.”
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“As the garden beds mature, the prison architecture is overpowered by plant life, proving that nature—like hope and compassion—will ultimately triumph over the harm humans impose on the planet.” The artist focuses her work on the effects of solitary confinement to “catalyze compassion,” public awareness, and to lend support for efforts to end the practice.” — artist jackie sumell