Photo by Derek Blanks

Photo by Derek Blanks

Shani Jamila is an artist and cultural worker who designs and executes innovative programs that use the arts to catalyze social change.  She is a TED Resident and a managing director of the Urban Justice Center in New York City, where she curates exhibits and events with a human rights focus.  Previously, she directed a culturally grounded mentorship initiative to support the empowerment of incarcerated teens; interviewed artists, writers and change makers as the host and producer of a weekly talk radio show; received a Fulbright fellowship to research advocacy in the Caribbean; and produced the Art of Activism seminar series at Howard University.

Her photography and collage work, which addresses themes of global identity, political imagination and witness, is informed by her travels to nearly fifty countries.  Shani has exhibited, lectured and performed at institutions including the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Harvard University’s Cooper Gallery, Smack Mellon Gallery, SCOPE Art Fair, Corridor Gallery, the City College of New York, New Museum, the Phillips Collection and Princeton University. The live community conversations she hosts with institutions including the Brooklyn Museum, New York Council for the Humanities, the Lincoln Center, NYU and New York Live Arts are known for engaging the audience in provocative discussions about the arts and society. She is also a member of the Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter collective.

An avid supporter of initiatives that work to merge culture and social justice, Jamila has worked in an advisory capacity with government agencies and non-profits on issues including organizational strategy, program development and grant administration. Currently, she serves as a mentor for NEW INC — the first museum led cultural incubator. She was also the first alumni member to sit on the national selection committee for the New Voices fellowship, which allocated resources to rebuild the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. Further, she chaired a committee consulted about effective arts education models for the National Cares Mentoring Movement, and was the lead writer of the chapter on culture in the NCMM publication A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America. Her essays a­nd poetry have been published in The Huffington Post; Race, Class and Gender; Black Renaissance Noire; Of Note and Global Connections to a Cultural Democracy. 

Shani’s portrait and quote are featured in “A Choice to Change the World,” a mural of socially engaged artists and advocates at her alma mater Spelman College.  Her career has also received recognition in publications like the New York Times, Trinidad Guardian, the London based literary magazine Sable and the 35th anniversary issue of ESSENCE—as “One of the 35 Most Remarkable Women in the World.”


Click here to watch Shani’s TED Talk, Reimagining Resistance Through Art.