The late Black Panther activist Herman Wallace, who spent forty-one years in solitary confinement for a conviction based on an unconstitutional indictment, has more to share from the grave.
During Wallace’s time in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison, visual artist and activist Jackie Sumell asked him a simple question: “What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6′ x 9′ box for more than thirty years dream of?” Thus was born the “dream house”: Wallace’s ideal house that found a physical form in an art installation, The House that Herman Built. This dream house became the emotional, and ultimately physical, space Wallace envisioned as his ideal world of justice, humanity, and peace—with it, Wallace carved out the freedom he could. Themultidisciplinary project included scale models and illustrations, as well as a movie, Angad Singh Bhalla’s award-winning documentary Herman’s House, which explored Wallace and Sumell’s artistic collaboration.
But it’s Angad Singh Bhalla’s latest film that truly recalls the courageous and visionary mind of the late Herman Wallace. The Deeper They Bury Me is an interactive portrait that takes place as a twenty-minute phone call in Wallace’s entirely isolated prison cell. This constrained allotment of time and space reflects the realistic conditions Wallace, along with many other wrongfully incarcerated citizens, experienced at Angola and similar correctional facilities. The name is taken from a poem Wallace wrote, “A Defined Voice.”
Throughout the film, participants are transported to Wallace’s dream room through immersive animated illustrations, archival images, and poetic words. Bhalla and co-director Ted Biggs collaborated with Helios Design Lab and animator Nicolas Brault in order to create this digital portrait, which challenges understandings of digital and emotional space as they relate to incarceration. The film urgently shifts from Wallace’s expectation for the life he deserved to the unjust reality of the prison system in which he was forced to spend forty-one years of his life.
During his years at Angola, Wallace worked to improve prison conditions, even while in solitary confinement, and The Deeper They Bury Me reflects his courageous effort to create a community within a prison system that stifles more than 2.3 million citizens living behind bars. The film premieres on Sunday, September 27th, at the 53rd New York Film Festival. It will be followed by a panel discussion featuring prominent activists, artists, and thinkers.