Abolitionist Aesthetics and the Abolitionist Movement: Los Angeles Grassroots Organizations and the Aesthetic Foundations of Real-Time Abolition


This Article profiles and interviews seven artists and organizers who are leaders throughout five distinct Los Angeles grassroots, abolitionist organizations at the forefront of dismantling and abolishing the largest penal system in the world, which is comprised of lethal policing and carceral institutions operated by the County and City of Los Angeles. Through an examination of the tools and strategies for protest employed by these five organizations, we highlight the organizers’ utilization of a distinct language of aesthetics as a principal instrument for abolition in the contemporary abolitionist movement. This Article identifies a growing number of contemporary Los Angeles based artists, collectives, and organizations which have built coalitions that have instrumentalized aesthetics through a myriad of performances, exhibitions, and public activations and interventions to address the abolition of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) in such an accessible and effective manner that these coalitions have frequently influenced policy change and community healing. In this Article, abolitionist aesthetics is identified as the contemporary artistic movement where artists, collectives, and organizations have employed the arts to address abolition of the PIC toward an effective social and political change. This Article also argues that the messaging and imaging of the contemporary abolitionist movement work, and the arts within this contemporary abolitionist movement work, rely heavily on the internal environments and community dynamics of the contemporary abolitionists who lead the movement, notably being Black women feminists who have introduced a radical Black, queer, and feminist politic steeped in a spiritual practice into the organizing science for the movement as it intersects with the arts.