Herman Wallace's solitary confinement is the focus of new BPL Exhibit
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Apr 15, 2015 | 5528 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The model of Herman Wallace’s dream house.                                  
Photo courtesy  of Jackie Sumell
The model of Herman Wallace’s dream house. Photo courtesy of Jackie Sumell
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A life-size replica of Wallace’s prison cell.
Photo courtesy of Jackie Sumell
A life-size replica of Wallace’s prison cell. Photo courtesy of Jackie Sumell
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Wallace’s letters from prison depicting his cell. 
Photo courtesy of Jackie Sumell
Wallace’s letters from prison depicting his cell. Photo courtesy of Jackie Sumell
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A letter fom Herman Wallace to Jackie Sumell. 
Photo courtesy of Jackie Sumell
A letter fom Herman Wallace to Jackie Sumell. Photo courtesy of Jackie Sumell
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This week, the Brooklyn Public Library debuted the exhibit “The House that Herman Built.” The opening reception included a screening of the renowned 2013 film “Herman’s House.” The film explores Black Panther activist Herman Wallace’s 42-year duration in solitary confinement and what he dreamt up his dream home to be.

Wallace was a part of the Angola Three, along with Robert Hillary King and Albert Woodfox. The three men were placed in solitary confinement after the killing a prison guard in 1972. Jackie Sumell, a visual artist who began corresponding with Wallace, learned about the events during a lecture regarding the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola Prison. She reached out to Wallace in 2003 when he was about 30 years into solitary confinement.

“What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6x9 foot cell for over 30 years dream of?” That is the question that Sumell asked Wallace in their letters, and it’s the question that the exhibit focuses on.

Along with the film, the exhibit showcases a 4 feet by 4 feet model of Wallace’s two-story dream house and letters exchanged between the two. Sumell hopes to one play build a house based on the model in New Orleans. The library will also feature a life-size replica of the prison cell that Wallace lived in. Visitors will be able to step inside of the cell to get a feel of how constrictive the space was.

Nick Higgins, the director of outreach services, hopes that the exhibition will force people to pause and think critically about what it all means.

“The American Justice System can be polarizing, but I hope that this exhibition ad the library can provide questions and answers about a system that is usually out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “The exhibit is disruptive for a reason.”

One of the roles of the library’s Outreach Services department includes providing services to incarcerated New Yorkers, such as access to mobile satellite libraries. The library itself also provides a space to hold teleconferences between inmates and family members. The meetings, called TeleStory, allow children to read books with their incarcerated parents through a live video feed.

Higgins argues that the library is the perfect democratic space where the general public can learn more about the American Justice System close up.

“Our library is well used, and having this exhibit will serve a broader purpose by opening up conversations,” Higgins said. “The justice system is one of the most supported systems through tax dollars, politician funding and voting, but this is a chance to look deeper into something that affects so many people.”

The exhibit will be on display from April 15 to June 5. Some supplemental events for this exhibition include:

April 16 at 7 p.m. - “Herman’s House” screening and Q&A with artist Jackie Sumell and Five Mualimm-ak

April 23 at 2 p.m. - “Hermaan’s House” daytime screening with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

April 27 at 1 p.m. - “The Dhamma Brothers” film screening

May 7 at 7 p.m. - Author Talk: Doran Larson - American Prison Writing from “Fourth City”
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