Notes on Art and the Abolitionist Imagination


  • Ken Ehrlich


Formed in the tumultuous summer of 2020, UC Cops off Campus groups coalesced around the joint aims of getting police off the campuses of the University of California and developing a collective abolitionist practice. In this essay I reflect on my own involvement in organizing to get cops off UC campuses as a lecturer in the art department of UC Riverside and in doing so, speculate on the complicated and evolving relationship between art and abolition. I attempt to disentangle the facile way that creativity is often understood in political and artistic contexts from the absolutely crucial centrality of the imagination within contemporary abolitionist struggles. Artists committed to systemic transformation might begin by taking seriously Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s deceptively simple proposition: "Abolition requires that we change one thing: everything.” Especially in this moment, art’s engagement with the political must go beyond embracing an abstract version of “change” that leaves institutional dynamics unexamined.





Art and Social Action