I was the first Curator's Fellow for MOHAI. I conducted research on Al Smith collection and gave a public lecture. During my time with the collection, I pondered about: the wealth and complexity in Smith’s archival style, the visceral representation of human emotions, what it means to build community relationships, and the playfulness in his experimentation. Looking through Smith’s work, it is clear: photographs are not just visual, but are meant to be felt. And leaning into the feeling can take us to the worlds Black people lived.
Usually the practice of imagining new worlds and other worlds, is left to the work of speculative fiction and sci-fi. Realist representations of Black life are often tied to representing Black struggle. I join a lineage of scholars who challenge that idea and insist that Black worlds, those that don’t align with the values of anti-Blackness, are constantly being made and lived in.
In my pursuit to analyze and closely read Al Smith’s photographs, I’m interested in how Smith shows us worldbuilding of Black other worlds by demonstrating the intimate ways of being with friends and family, enjoying the beauty of life, and experimentations. His photographs show how Black people in Seattle built a world for them to be joyous and filled with a sense of community love. A world that greatly opposes how the anti-Black world likes to imagine Black life.
Ritual: Form and Function in Scholarly and Artistic Practices
In my role as Artist Fellowship Coordinator at the Henry Art Gallery, 2021-23, I co-developed a program for graduate students who identify as artists and as scholars. Many creative scholars reveal how there’s this deceptive line between their critical work/ scholarship and their creative work; this line can prevent genuine contributions to our fields of study. This program offered a space where creative scholars and talk with other professional who have found a way to weave their art practices with their scholarship.
The Chorus was a multi-series video/audio based production that ran between 2020-2022. It served as a support for a community of scholars, artists, and educators. It was a collaborative adventure with a mission to change what counts as academic discourse and offer other teachers & instructors ways to teach students that their creativity can be academic.
The Chorus responds to an urgency to sustain cultural communities and the impact of such sustenance in academia and scholarship. This project gets together a group of artist-scholars to discuss and create responses to significant cultural texts-- especially works significant to the fields of Black, and queer studies. For example, we look at how The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977) opens a discussion of identity politics outside of white, patriarchal, hetero-normative standards. We ask how A People’s Landscape: Racism and Resistance at UW (2020) offers a radical view of history and mapping through storytelling about the lands and buildings occupied by our very institution. We can watch Ilana Harris-Babou’s films and also consider, as she does, how cultural objects shape us as much as we’re shaping them. Through our engagement with the texts, we aim to curate robust conversations, learning from each other’s respective disciplines, artistic, and community backgrounds. These conversations will not only let us explore texts in ways that we haven’t considered before, but also allow us new avenues to teach these works.
The Chorus follows in the wake of Saidiya Hartman’s storytelling practice, where she tells stories of Black women who have been omitted or muted from historical archives because they don’t fit white supremacist imagination of who Black women should be and the lives they should live. By responding to texts that are often disregarded in academia, members of The Chorus not only highlight previous creators' voices, but we also commune with each other's thoughts and stories told in ways that are genuine to us, despite academia’s aims to conform us.
With this project, we ask, how can we create works, and thus guide others to create works, that broaden the scope of academic scholarship to include diverse discourse communities and cultural ways of knowing? The Chorus aims to build a community of instructors, teachers, thinkers, artists, and writers and curate a webpage or blog with creative reading responses and other teaching resources.