Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of Art, Art History, and Design
2019–2020 Critical Race Studies Artist/Designer in Residence

The Critical Race Studies Residency Program is designed to empower artistic creativity that drives cultural transformation through a shared engagement with creative practice. The true impact of this program creates opportunities for shared experiences that embody the core values of MSU to cultivate diversity, create a positive environment, and embody inclusiveness with passion and determination.

Appointed to the 2019–2020 positions were:

  • Luis Sahagun
  • jackie sumell

As part of their residency, Sahagun and sumell will produce substantial public projects that engage in critical approaches to diversity and inclusion through creative practice. They will each mount a solo presentations of their work, teach courses in the Studio Art and Apparel and Textile Design programs, and participated in outreach to the community throughout the year, working in some of MSU’s most publicly accessible spaces, such as (SCENE) Metrospace, MSU Union Art Gallery, Broad Art Museum, and Kresge Art Center, as well as locations in the greater Lansing community.

Luis Sahagun

LUIS SAHAGUN (b. 1982, Guadalajara, Mexico) is a multi-disciplinary artist transforming art into a mystical instrument that bestows a pre-columbian spiritual connection in order to heal wounds of conquest, colonization, and capitalism. Like DNA strings of mestizaje, his practice metaphorically represent contradiction- indian/conqueror, violence/unity, and ancient/contemporary. His work embodies a visual language of cultural resistance that counters the traditional white, male, heterosexual art historical canon. Sahagun has exhibited at venues including the MCA, Chicago, IL; Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, Roswell, NM; The National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago, IL; the International Exposition of Contemporary Art (expo) Chicago, IL; amongst many others. Additionally, his work has been covered in publications such as: ArtForum, ChicagoMag, NewCity Magazine, MundoFOX, New American Paintings and the Chicago Tribune. He has worked as a Lecturer at the Art Institute of Chicago, a Teaching Artist for the MCA- Chicago, holds an MFA in Paintings from Northern Illinois University, and a BFA in Industrial Design from Southern Illinois University- Carbondale.


Artist Statement

Luis Sahagun’s drawings, sculptures, paintings, and performances confront the palpable inescapability of race and transforms art into an act of cultural reclamation. Like DNA strings of mestizaje, his practice metaphorically represents contradiction — indian/conqueror, violence/unity, and ancient/contemporary. His work embodies a visual language of cultural resistance that counters the traditional white, male, heterosexual art historical canon.

Latinx art perspectives have been historically marginalized in the U.S., a country that traditionally describes itself as white and black. However, mestizo or brown experiences oer new understandings of the United States’ past, present, & future. Consequently, Sahagun aims to contribute to alternative Latinx narratives with his own stories: (1) personal reasons for which his family immigrated to this country, (2) growing up with struggles of cultural and spiritual disconnect, and (3) surviving in communities that are victimized by gang and gun related violence. Sahagun spotlights the importance of Latinx cultures and contributions in order to combat the anti-immigration and anti-Latinx national rhetoric that persists throughout the country.

As a previously undocumented immigrant and former laborer, Sahagun’s art seeks to reveal the aesthetics of relocation and transgenerational trauma by utilizing building materials such as silicone, lumber, drywall, concrete, and hardware as symbols that represent working class immigrants in this country. These atypical art mediums mix with other non-conventional materials such as beads, rope, and jute to create paintings and wearable sculptures that function as surrogate ancestors. As the grandson of a curandera, Sahagun transforms his art making into a mystical instrument that forges a pre-columbian spiritual connection in order to heal wounds of conquest, colonization, and capitalism. His art stands out as a conduit for re-imagining possible futures or alternate realities through a multi-angled lense.

jackie sumell

jackie sumell is a multidisciplinary artist and prison abolitionist inspired most by the lives of everyday people. Her work has been successfully anchored at the intersection of activism, education, and art for nearly two decades, and it has been exhibited extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe. She has been the recipient of multiple residencies and fellowships including, but not limited to, The Headlands Center for the Arts, A Blade of Grass Fellowship, Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship, Soros Justice Fellowship, Eyebeam Project Fellowship, and a Schloss Solitude Residency Fellowship. sumell’s collaboration with Herman Wallace (a prisoner-of-consciousness and member of the “Angola 3”) was the subject of the Emmy Award-Winning documentary Herman's House (Best Artistic Documentary 2013). sumell's work with Herman has positioned her at the forefront of the public campaign to end solitary confinement in the United States. jackie’s work explores the intersection of social sculpture, mindfulness practices, and prison abolition. 


Artist Statement

Slavery did not end, as is commonly believed, in 1865; it merely evolved. The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution includes a strategic exception to the abolition of slavery for those “duly convicted of a crime.” Prisons in the United States are filled with people of color “duly convicted of a crime” at a rate almost eight times higher than whites. Thus, conversations surrounding prison abolition and radicalized capitalism are required in order to facilitate authentic possibilities for a non-racist, non-exploitative, non-hierarchical democratic order.

Of the 2.2 million incarcerated people in the United States, 80,000 to 100,000 are subjected to indefinite solitary confinement everyday. Prisoners are isolated for a minimum of twenty-three hours per day in a six-by-nine-foot (or smaller) concrete and steel cell. No judge or jury places an individual in solitary confinement; the decision is made solely by prison officials. The devastating, and often irreparable, effects of solitary confinement include, but are not limited to, alienation, dehumanization, despair, disorientation, paranoia, and suicidal ideation. Solitary confinement is torture and has been defined as such by the United Nations, the American Civil Liberties Union, and human rights watchdogs around the world. It remains one of the most concentrated forms of punishment in the United States, making anti-solitary work a paramount target for true abolition.

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 garden beds are designed 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.