Visualizing Abolition

What does it mean to think of abolitionism as a vision—one that challenges the social, economic, and political worldviews that prisons promote?

In the United States—and around the globe—demands are growing for a society in which prisons and policing are not the ostensible solutions to inequality and other social problems. With ideas once specific to abolitionist movements taking hold of the popular imagination, Visualizing Abolition brings together artists, activists, scholars, and others united by their commitment to the vital struggle for prison abolition.

The online event series took place from October 20, 2020-May 18, 2021, with the events archived here following each live program.

Archived Events

October 20, 2020, 4:00-5:30PM PT


Angela Y. Davis and Gina Dent

Angela Y. Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies, UCSC, is a renowned activist and scholar. For decades, Prof. Davis has been at the forefront in our nation’s quest for economic, racial, and gender equality and social justice. She is the author of nine books, including her most recent book of essays called The Meaning of Freedom.

Gina Dent, Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, History of Consciousness, and Legal Studies, UCSC is a committed activist, scholar, and educator. Abolition. Feminism. Now. (Forthcoming, Haymarket Press) edited by Dent in collaboration with Angela Davis, Beth Richie, and Erica Meiners, grows out of her work as an advocate for human rights and prison abolition. She is the editor of Black Popular Culture, and author of numerous articles on race, feminism, popular culture, and visual art.

October 27, 2020, 4:00-5:30PM PT


Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. He is recipient of over 40 honorary doctorates, the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize and much more. His award winning New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, was recently adapted as a major motion picture.

November 17, 2020, 4:00-5:30PM PT


Nicole Fleetwood, Herman Gray, and Nicholas Mirzoeff

Nicole Fleetwood is a writer, curator, and professor of American Studies and Art History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She is the author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration , On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination, and Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness . Fleetwood has curated exhibitions and events on art and mass incarceration at MoMA PS1, Andrew Freedman Home, Aperture, Cleveland Public Library, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, and more.

Herman Gray is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz where he taught courses in media and television studies, cultural theory and politics and Black cultural studies. Gray has published widely in scholarly journals like American Quarterly and International Journal of Communication in the areas of black cultural politics, media and television studies. His recent book, Race, Post Race , is co-edited with Sarah Banet Weiser and Roopali Mukherjee and published by Duke University Press.

Nicholas Mirzoeff is a visual activist, working at the intersection of politics, race and global/visual culture, and is currently ACLS/Mellon Scholar and Society fellow in residence at the Magnum Foundation, New York. His publications include, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality , How To See The World and The Appearance of Black Lives Matter. His writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, The Nation, The New York Times, Frieze, The Guardian, Time, and The New Republic .

December 1, 2020, 12:00-1:30PM PT


Isaac Julien and Robin D.G. Kelly

Isaac Julien, Distinguished Professor of the Arts, UC Santa Cruz, is a British artist whose work unites a range of artistic disciplines in dramatic audiovisual film installations, photographic works and documentary films. Julien was a founder member of the Sankofa Film and Video Collective, formed to expose the racialised unconscious of British Society, and Normal Films, to produce queer cinema in a UK context. Julien is represented in museums internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, Tate, and the Guggenheim Museum.

Robin D.G. Kelley is a Professor in the Department of African American Studies at UCLA and Distinguished Professor of History & Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in United States History. His research has explored the history of social movements in the U.S., the African Diaspora, and Africa; Black intellectuals; music; visual culture; contemporary urban studies; historiography and historical theory; poverty studies and ethnography; colonialism/imperialism; organized labor; constructions of race; Surrealism, Marxism, nationalism, among other things. His essays have appeared in a wide variety of professional journals as well as general publications, including the Journal of American History, Black Music Research Journal, and New York Times Magazine name a few.

January 19, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT

Prisons, Histories, and Erasures

Kelly Lytle Hernández, Joanne Barker, Maria Gaspar

Joanne Barker is Lenape (a citizen of the Delaware Tribe of Indians). She is professor and chair of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. She is currently serving on The Segora Te Land Trust Board and The Critical Ethnic Studies Journal Board. Barker is the author of Native Acts: Law, Recognition, and Cultural Authenticity , and the editor of Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination .

Maria Gaspar is an interdisciplinary artist whose work addresses issues of spatial justice in order to amplify, mobilize, or divert structures of power through individual and collective gestures. Through installation, sculpture, sound, and performance, Gaspar's practice interacts with historically marginalized sites and spans multiple formats, scales, and durations to produce liberatory actions. Gaspar's projects have been supported by the Art for Justice Fund, the Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship and the Creative Capital Award.

Kelly Lytle Hernández is a professor of History, African American Studies, and Urban Planning at UCLA where she holds The Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History. She is also the Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. She is the author of the award-winning books, Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol, and City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and The Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles .

January 26, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT

Prisons and Poetics

Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is an American poet, memoirist, and teacher. His work in public defense, his years of advocacy, and Betts’s own experiences as a teenager in maximum security prisons uniquely positions him to speak to the failures of the current criminal justice system and present encouraging ideas for change. Betts often gives talks about his own experience, detailing his journey from incarceration to Yale Law School and the role that perseverance and literature played in his success.

February 2, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT


American Artist, Simone Browne, and Ruha Benjamin

American Artist is an interdisciplinary artist whose work uses video, installation, new media, and writing to consider Black labor and visibility, as well as anti-blackness within networked life and digital systems. They completed the Whitney Independent Study Program and are a former resident of Abrons Art Center and EYEBEAM. They have exhibited at the Museum of African Diaspora, San Francisco; the Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and Koenig & Clinton, New York.

Simone Browne is Associate Professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her first book, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness , was awarded the 2016 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize by the American Studies Association, and the 2016 Surveillance Studies Book Prize by the Surveillance Studies Network. Browne is also a member of Deep Lab, a feminist collaborative composed of artists, engineers, hackers, writers, and theorists.

Ruha Benjamin is Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and Founding Director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab. Benjamin writes, teaches, and speaks widely about the relationship between knowledge and power, race and citizenship, health and justice. Benjamin is also the author of the award-winning book Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (2019), among numerous other publications.

February 9, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT

Material and Memory

Sanford Biggers and Leigh Raiford

Sanford Biggers’ work is an interplay of narrative, perspective and history that speaks to current social, political and economic happenings and the contexts that bore them. His diverse practice positions him as a collaborator with the past through explorations of often overlooked cultural and political narratives from American history. Biggers’ has exhibited work in galleries including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Tate Modern, London, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Leigh Raiford is Associate Professor of African American Studies at the UC Berkeley, where she teaches and researches about race, gender, justice and visuality. She also serves as affiliate faculty in the Program in American Studies, and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Raiford is the author of Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle and her work has appeared in numerous publications, including American Quarterly, History and Theory, and Artforum.

February 23, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT

Abolitionist Feminisms

Beth Richie, Erica Meiners, and Sonya Clark

Beth Richie is the Head of Department of Criminology, Law and Justice; Professor of African American Studies and Gender and Women's Studies and the University of Illinois and Chicago. Richie’s scholarly and activist work focuses on the ways that race, ethnicity and social position affect women’s experience of violence and incarceration. Richie is the author of ​Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence and America’s Prison Nation which explores the contemporary anti-violence movement and mass incarceration in the United States, and co-editor of Abolition. Feminism. Now. (Forthcoming, Haymarket Press).

Erica Meiners is a Professor of Education and Women's and Gender Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. As the Bernard J. Brommel Distinguished Research Professor, Meiners teaches classes in justice studies, women’s and gender studies, and educational studies. Meiners is the author of Right to be Hostile: Schools, Prisons and the Making of Public Enemies, Public Acts: Disruptive Readings on Making Curriculum Public with Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco, and Flaunt It! Queers Organizing for Public Education and Justice. She is co-editor of Abolition. Feminism. Now. (Forthcoming, Haymarket Press).

Sonya Clark draws from the legacy of crafted objects as a means to honor her lineage and expand notions of both American-ness and art. She uses materials as wide ranging as textiles, hair, beads, combs, and sound to address issues of nationhood, identity, and racial constructs. Clark’s work is exhibited in museums and galleries internationally, and she is the recipient of several awards including an Anonymous Was a Woman Award, and a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.

March 2, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT

Art, Abolition, and the University

Ashley Hunt, MJ Hart, Joshua Solis, Alberto Lule, Ryan Flaco Rising, and Rodrigo Vazquez

Abolish the University broadsheet available here.

Ashley Hunt uses images, objects, maps, writing and performance to engage social ideas and actions. He approaches art and activism as complimentary spheres of practice — drawing upon the ideas and aesthetics of social movements, cultural theory and art alike. Hunt has exhibited work in galleries internationally and correctional institutions, such as the 2012 Made in L.A. Biennial of the Hammer Museum, the Tate Modern in London and the Putnamville Correctional Institution in Indiana.

MJ Hart is an artist, abolitionist, and gang member turned activist after surviving the horrors of the criminal injustice system. MJ is a Workshop Facilitator and Creator of “Rozes Among Thorns” with the org The Beat Within. MJ is helping to establish the Underground Scholars Initiative at UCSC while completing their BA in Psychology with a minor in History of Consciousness. MJ strives to put their knowledge into action organizing with grassroots movements in their hometown and beyond.

Joshua Solis is a first generation formerly incarcerated alumnus from UCSC. After spending over 11 years incarcerated he is now a leader and advocate for formerly incarcerated and system impacted students in California. He earned a BA in Sociology at UCSC, and is currently pursuing his Masters. Joshua is now the Program Coordinator for the Underground Scholars Initiative at UC Santa Cruz. Through comprehensive collaboration, program coordination, and outreach his efforts serve to continue the prison to school pipeline.

Alberto Lule became an artist while serving a thirteen year prison sentence. Art made the prison walls disappear, allowing Alberto to overcome both a physical and mental prison. Using mixed media installation, Lule critiques mass incarceration and particularly the California prison system. Alberto connects the similarities between institutions, from institutions of higher learning to correctional institutions, to expose and learn from a scientific and sociological perspective, but even more thoroughly through art and activism.

Ryan Flaco Rising has experienced drug addiction, gang banging, physical and mental abuse, incarceration as a juvenile, seven years in prison, and brutal prison riots which almost cost their life. While in prison, education became an outlet to address past trauma and writing helped Ryan grow a passion for learning. Through the Underground Scholars Initiative Ryan developed leadership skills and is engaged in finding solutions to end mass incarceration through collective first-hand experiences while thriving at UC Santa Barbara.

Born and raised in Boyle Heights Aliso Village Projects Rodrigo Vazquez started organizing to end gang violence and build Black and Brown Unity. Vazquez assisted in the California campaign to reform the 3 strikes policy and to change confinement conditions for youth inside the YA. At UC Berkeley, Vazquez assisted in developing the Underground Scholars, and created statewide-programs with funding for formerly incarcerated students. Vazquez is now a graduate student at UCLA's Social Work Program.

March 9, 2021, 4-5:30 p.m. PT

Popular Culture and the Radical Imaginary

Patrisse Cullors and Maxwell Addae

Artist, organizer, and educator, Patrisse Cullors is a Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network and Founder of grassroots organization Dignity and Power Now. Cullors featured in TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 list and ‘100 Women of the Year’. Cullors is a New York Times bestselling author of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir (2018). She is currently the Faculty Director at Arizona’s Prescott College of a new Social and Environmental Arts Practice M.F.A. program.

With a love of cinema’s more idiosyncratic directing auteurs, Maxwell has strived to express himself as purely as possible. Most notable merging the vulnerably personal with genre flourishes. His American Film Institute thesis short is called Outdooring which has screened at over 20 international festivals. Most notably the 2019 South by Southwest and the 2020 Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival.

April 6, 2021, 4-5:30 p.m. PT

Abolition Beyond the State

Sadie Barnette, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Zoé Samudzi, and Eric Stanley

Eric A. Stanley is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. They are the author of Atmospheres of Violence: Trans/ Queer Antagnoism and the Ungovernable (forthcoming Duke UP) and the coeditor of Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility and Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui is Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) Professor of American Studies at Wesleyan University, where she teaches indigenous studies, critical race studies, and more. She is the author of books including Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity . She produced and hosted the radio program, “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond” that was widely syndicated through the Pacific network. Kauanui is a co-founder of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

Zoé Samudzi is a writer and doctoral candidate in Medical Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. Her research engages colonial biomedicine, visuality, German colonialism, and the 1904-1908 Herero and Nama genocide in present-day Namibia. Her writing has appeared in The New Inquiry, Hyperallergic, and Arts.Black, among many others. Along with William C. Anderson, she is the co-author of As Black as Resistance: Finding the Conditions for Our Liberation (AK Press).

Whether in the form of drawing, photography or large-scale installation, Sadie Barnette's work relishes in the abstraction of city space and the transcendence of the mundane to the imaginative. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally and is in the permanent collections of museums such as LACMA, Berkeley Art Museum, the California African American Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem (where she was also Artist-in-Residence), Brooklyn Museum and the Guggenheim.

April 13, 2021, 4-5:30 p.m. PT

Abolition from the Inside Out

jackie sumell, Albert Woodfox, and Tim Young

jackie sumell is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice speaks to both traditional artist communities and those historically marginalized by structural racism. Her work has been successfully anchored at the intersection of activism, education, mindfulness practices and art for nearly two decades. summell has exhibited extensively throughout the world and her collaborative work with Herman Wallace is the subject of the Emmy Award Winning documentary Herman's House, screened to a national audience on PBS in 2013.

Albert Woodfox is an activist and the author of "Solitary," a 2019 National Book Award finalist. As one of the Angola Three, along with Robert King and Herman Wallace, Woodfox served nearly 44 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He was released in 2016. Woodfox was a committed activist in prison, he remains so today, speaking to audiences including the Innocence Project, Harvard, and Yale, as well as at Amnesty International events in London, Paris,and Denmark.

Timothy James Young is a writer, activist, and a wrongfully convicted prisoner on Death Row. He is now partaking in the Appellate process to regain his freedom. Tim is a collaborator in Solitary Garden, a participatory public garden project by award-winning artist jackie sumell. The sculpture follows the blueprint of a 6’x9’ U.S. solitary confinement cell similar to the one Tim has been confined to for twenty-one years. Tim’s writings have been featured in the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper.

April 20, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT

(Re) Enacting Revolution

Dread Scott and Erin Gray

Dread Scott is an interdisciplinary artist who for three decades has made work that encourages viewers to re-examine cohering ideals of American society. In 1989, the entire US Senate denounced and outlawed his artwork and President Bush declared it “disgraceful” because of its use of the American flag. His work has been exhibited/performed at the Whitney Museum, MoMA/PS1, BAM Fisher and galleries and street corners across the country.

Erin Gray, Assistant Professor of Black Literary and Cultural Studies, UC Davis, is a writer, educator, and activist currently living in occupied Huichin (Oakland, California). Gray’s current book project, The Moving Image of Lynching: Liberalizing Racial Terror in the Long Photographic Century, theorizes the co-emergence and continuing imbrication of lynch law and racial liberalism as constitutive elements of U.S imperial power. Her co-edited anthology, The Black Radical Tradition in the United States, is forthcoming from Verso Press in 2021. She has published essays in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Open Letter: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory, The International Feminist Journal of Politics, Truthout, and Viewpoint.

May 4, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT

Documenting Justice

Film screening and Q&A curated by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman

Panel Discussion w/ Dee Hibbert-Jones, Nomi Talisman, and guests May 4, 2021, 4-5:30 p.m. PT

The documentary films on prisons and justice will be available to watch online between April 30 - May 4. Advance registration required for online access to view the films and attend the discussion. Information on the films.

Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman are Academy Award nominated, Emmy award winning filmmakers who collaborate on art, documentary film and new media projects that look at the ways power structures and politics impact everyday lives. Among many other awards, their animated short documentary Last Day of Freedom was awarded a Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Braintrust Award, a Northern California Emmy, won Best Short at the International Documentary (IDA) Awards. They are currently residents at SFFilmHouse.

May 11, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT


Sora Han, adrienne maree brown, Savannah Shange

Sora Han is the Director of the Culture & Theory Ph.D. Program at UC Irvine, and an Associate Professor of Criminology, Law and Society with courtesy appointments in the School of Law and African American Studies. Her book, Letters of the Law, uses critical race theory to produce new readings of American law’s landmark decisions on race and civil rights. Recent publications include “Slavery as Contract,” in Law and Literature and “Poetics of Mu” in Textual Practice.

adrienne maree brown is the writer-in-residence at the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute, and author of Pleasure Activism: Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation, We Will Not Cancel Us and Other Dreams of Transformative Justice, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds and the co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements and and How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office. She is the co-host of the How to Survive the End of the World , Octavia’s Parables, and Emergent Strategy podcasts. adrienne is rooted in Detroit.

Savannah Shange is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz and serves as principal faculty in Critical Race & Ethnic Studies. Her research and teaching interests include state violence, late liberal statecraft, multiracial coalition, ethnographic ethics, queer politics, and abolition. Her book, Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Anti-Blackness and Schooling in San Francisco is an ethnography of the afterlife of slavery as lived in the Bay Area.

May 18, 2021, 4:00-5:30PM PT

Music for Abolition

Curator Terri Lyne Carrington and guests

Three-time GRAMMY® award-winning drummer, producer, educator, and activist, Terri Lyne Carrington started her professional career while studying under a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston. In the mid '80’s she gained national recognition on late night TV as the house drummer for both the Arsenio Hall Show and Quincy Jones’ VIBE TV show.

Ms Carrington has released two GRAMMY®Award-winning albums The Mosaic Project, and Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue , establishing her as the first woman ever to win in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category. In 2019 Ms. Carrington was granted the Doris Duke Artist Award, in recognition of her past and ongoing contributions to jazz music.

Ms. Carrington has performed on over 100 recordings and has worked extensively with luminary artists. Ms. Carrington is an honorary doctorate recipient from Berklee, and currently serves as Founder and Artistic Director for the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.