MSU class works with national artist to spread awareness about social issues

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — A packet of seeds can hold various interpretations to several people. A Michigan State University class used 6 Michigan plant species to symbolize the idea of conflict, the environment, knowledge, and mass incarceration. 

Professor Johanna Schuster-Craig teaches global studies in the arts and humanities program at Michigan State University. Schuster-Craig wanted to bring a more hands-on approach to teach her introductory class which led her to post on Facebook. This social media post ended up creating a partnership between her and a nationally well-known artist Jackie Sumell. She uses her artwork as symbolism to fight mass incarceration and solitary confinement. 

“I did not think a global studies class with a professor interested in seeds could link up with a nationally known artist and have that artist work with her students,” Schuster-Craig stated. 

Sumell and Schuster-Craig discussed the idea of using seed packets to represent a deep interpretation between plants and social justice problems. 

“We’re looking more at global conflicts and different ways local plants…local to Michigan inspire us to do better,” Sumell stated. 

One of Sumell and Schuster-Craig’s main goals was to approach young adults and get them thinking about the idea of conflict, confinement, and how global cultures play a major role in the overall message of humanity and punishment in prison. 

Sumell and Schuster-Craig state each seed packet symbolize a different conflict people can face. Sumell says this can be literally and symbolically by the artist who designs the packet. They say the artist can plant their own form of knowledge into these seeds to honor and respect all living things. 

Professor Schuster-Craig’s class focuses on conflict, and Sumell stated that’s what she says is usually the first step before a larger-scale problem which includes mass incarceration. The class voted on six Michigan plant-species which they designed the packets that are now on display at MSU’s campus museum. 

They call the exhibit, “Solitary gardens social justice packets” and the goal is to plant a seed of wisdom for visitors to take home. 

“I learned very early on as an artist that the viewer finishes the piece,” Sumell said, “so I can’t expect people to take away the seed packets and decide they’re going to commit their lives and legacies to prison, industrial complex abolition.” 

Schuester-Craig and Sumell hope visitors can at least take away empathy; humanity, curiosity, and unity. 

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