Shani recently traveled to Havana to attend the opening of the Significations exhibit at the Centro Provincial de Artes Plastics y Diseno. Featured artists include Shani, Deb Willis, Sara Shamsavari and so many more great talents. It’s curated by the brilliant Awam Amkpa. Africa as a place and a font of diaspora has long served as an energizing if contentious context for producing, mediating, and sustaining art and art making. Significations is a dialogic exhibition that frames contemporary imaginations of a capacious Africa as a subject of conversation among artists from all over the Atlantic World. It extends a previous exhibition ReSignifications, that opened in Florence, Italy, in 2015. If you or those you love are in Havana any time before June 5th, please stop by and spread the word!
Shani recently had the opportunity to travel to Chile. She visited a coastal city that was one of Pablo Neruda’s hometowns, spent time in the country’s capital Santiago, gazed at the Andes mountains and took a hot air balloon ride over the Atacama Desert– known as the driest place in the world. She also visited the beautiful country of Panama! Click here to check out her travel photography on her Instagram account.
Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter
Shani is a member of the Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter collective, which works in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives. Currently, BWA for BLM is included in a group exhibition,”Vanishing Points” at New York’s James Cohan Gallery, and at Project Row Houses in Houston, TX. If you are in either city, please stop by!
The Porter Colloquium
Lastly, Shani traveled down to DC to attend the Porter Colloquium on African American Art at Howard University. In the dawn of her career, she organized a symposium series about the arts and human rights on Howard’s campus, so it was really wonderful for her to be back “home” for this occasion.
Please see below for news about two organizations that are currently accepting applications for upcoming opportunities. Shani is a mentor at New INC and a Resident at TED, and highly recommends both groups. If either of these would be a good fit for you or someone you know, please apply and forward widely!
NEW INC is “the first museum-led cultural incubator dedicated to supporting innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship across art, design and technology. It occupies eight thousand square feet of dedicated office, workshop, social and presentation space. Each year they select an outstanding interdisciplinary community of one hundred members who are investigating new ideas and developing sustainable practices.” Applications are now open, click here to learn how you can become a part of this dynamic organization.
“The TED Residency program is an incubator for breakthrough ideas. It is free and open to all via a semiannual competitive application. Those chosen as residents spend fourteen weeks at the organization’s headquarters in New York City working on their ideas.” If you are interested in applying for the 2017 Fall Residency cohort, click here to learn more.
Shani is featured in a New York Times broadcast about how American identity is constructed. The conversation, which was filmed live at the NYT offices, is resonating with tens of thousands of people from around the world– it reached over 190,000 views after just one day!!
The NYT describes the series as follows: “What makes someone American? That’s the central theme of “Hyphen-Nation,” which tackles the issue of American identity being tied to the concept of “whiteness” through the lens of 9 people who don’t identify as white.” Join Bayete Ross Smith, Armando Somoza and Shani by adding your comments on race, identity and citizenship to the discussion posted below from the NYT Facebook page.
Afro Punk Harlem Takeover
Shani loved hosting a conversation with this magical group of women: musician Tamar-Kali, dancer and choreographer Adia Whitaker, director Ashley Brockington and writer Feminista Jones. The panel was preceded by an incredible performance of Demon Fruit Blues, featuring Ase Dance. Many thanks to the co-sponsors AfroPunk and the Harlem Stage, in addition to all the members of the sold out audience!
The Schomburg Center
In January Shani was pleased to host a spirited discussion of writers and scholars at Harlem’s renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The event featured Brittney Cooper, Susanna Morris and Robin Boylorn taking on popular culture, politics, race and gender as they celebrated the launch of their new book The Crunk Feminist Collection. Click here to watch!
The Whitney Museum
On Inauguration Day, Shani was proud to stand with fellow members of Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter to read their Notes Toward a Manifesto. They joined a long list of artists who chose to spend the day speaking out about their principles and who they stand for.
Brooklyn Arts Exchange
Lastly, it was a true pleasure for Shani to head over to the Brooklyn Arts Exchange as a contributor to their forum on the five year history of Dancing While Black. It was a great afternoon visioning and strategizing about the arts and social change during Artist Services Day.
One of Shani’s favorite 2016 moments happened at Harvard University’s Ethelbert Cooper Gallery. She was invited to be their inaugural Late Night Thursday’s speaker! Shani screened her short film, Altar: A Moving Meditation, which features music by Alicia Hall Moran and Brett Sroka, and delivered an artist talk as part of the programming for Carrie Mae Weems’ breathtaking exhibit, “I Once Knew A Girl.” She couldn’t have been more thrilled to present her work in this stunning space- helmed by the indomitable Vera Grant and designed by David Adjaye, who also designed the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Emory Douglas Exhibit
Another highlight of the year was curating an exhibit of Emory Douglas’ work, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Panther Party. “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains” featured work from the collection of Alden & Mary Kimbrough, and was mentioned in the New York Times.
Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter
It did Shani’s heart well to join with over one hundred Black women artists, in a convening organized by Simone Leigh, to respond to the continued inhumane institutionalized violence against black lives. Their first evening of collectively organized healing workshops, performances, digital works, participatory exchanges, displays and the distribution of materials was held at the New Museum. BWA for BLM focuses on the interdependence of care and action, invisibility and visibility, self defense and self determination, and desire and possibility in order to highlight and disavow pervasive conditions of racism. Stay tuned, they are working on more for this upcoming year.
Black Portraitures, South Africa
In November Shani traveled to Johannesburg to speak at one of her favorite conferences, a convening of artists, curators, cultural workers and scholars called Black Portraitures. This year also saw international travel to Senegal, Portugal, Germany, France, Greece, Denmark and Mexico.
Facilitating Community Conversations
Finally, in 2016 Shani continued her work addressing inequity and catalyzing cultural change. Two stand out moments were moderating the Democracy and Distrust forum for the New York Council for the Humanities, and co-facilitating an annual convening of dancers, choreographers and scholars organized by Camille Brown, called The Gathering.
Shani has been invited to speak at Harvard’s Ethelbert Cooper Gallery! On the evening of December 1st, she will screen a short film she recently made and deliver an artist talk about her career using the arts to transform society. The film, which features music by Alicia Hall Moran and Brett Sroka, will be shown in the midst of an exhibit by the brilliant Carrie Mae Weems, I Once Knew A Girl. Click here for more details.
Shani will get to Harvard fresh off of an epic trip to South Africa, where she spoke at the Black Portraitures Conference about how she’s used her art to catalyze conversations about race, gender and criminal justice reform. This conference gathers artists, curators, cultural workers and scholars from throughout the diaspora for three days of brilliance and beauty.
As shared in a previous post, Shani was awarded a place in the TED Residency program – an in-house incubator for breakthrough ideas. She’s part of a cohort of amazing thinkers who are spending four months in the TED office, creatively taking on projects that are making significant changes in their communities, across many different fields. The date that they film their TED Talks is rapidly approaching! We look forward to sharing the end product with you.
Finally, Shani will be in a poetry reading on November 28th at Bluestockings Books in NYC to support the people of Haiti. She’ll be performing with Elana Bell, Kathy Engel, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Candice Iloh, Caits Meissner, Roberto Garcia, Yemeni Montill and youth poets from the Bronx Academy of Letters.
Next head over to Ebony.com, where the latest edition of The Spin’s important conversation on consent is featured. This week’s contributors are Marc Lamont Hill, Sofia Quintero and Shani Jamila. To read the article and tune in to the podcast hosted by Esther Armah, click here.
Shani was awarded a place in the TED Residency program– an in-house incubator for breakthrough ideas. She is part of a cohort of amazing thinkers who are spending four months in the TED office, creatively taking on projects that are making significant changes in their communities, across many different fields. At the end of the session, she’ll have the opportunity to give a TED Talk about her ideas in the theater of the organization’s headquarters! To learn more, click here to visit her TED page.
Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter
Shani is one in a powerful group of over one hundred black women artists who gathered to form a collective force underground, known as Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter (BWA for BLM). Simone Leigh, the current artist in residence at the New Museum, convened this group in response to the continued inhumane institutionalized violence against black lives. BWA for BLM held a public event in solidarity with Black Lives Matter at the New Museum on September 1st.
This dynamic evening featured collectively organized healing workshops, performances, digital works, participatory exchanges, displays, and the distribution of materials throughout the New Museum Theater, Lobby, Fifth Floor, and Sky Room. The event was covered by media outlets including Hyperallergic and the New York Times.
BWA for BLM focuses on the interdependence of care and action, invisibility and visibility, self-defense and self-determination, and desire and possibility in order to highlight and disavow pervasive conditions of racism. For updates and information on BWA for BLM, please follow the group on Twitter (#BWAforBLM) and Instagram (@BWAforBLM).
NYA (National Youth Administration) youth assisting in South Parkway Branch, Y.W.C.A. (Young Women’s Christian Association) in Chicago, n.d. Courtesy Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, the New York Public Library).
Emory Douglas Exhibit
The Emory Douglas exhibit Shani curated, “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains,” will be up until October 15th! If you are able to get to the beautiful Battery Park neighborhood in lower Manhattan, please stop by to visit the show, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party.
Art@UJC proudly presents “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains,” a new exhibit commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Panther Party. This show of Emory Douglas’ work, featuring art from the collection of Alden and Mary Kimbrough, will mark the culmination of our inaugural year of exhibitions.
Douglas is a renowned artist and former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party, whose design concepts reflect the concerns of the community. His art has been displayed at the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. A retrospective of Douglas’s work was published in Art in America and is the subject of the book Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas.
“We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains” is curated by Shani Jamila, artist and UJC Managing Director.
The opening reception, held on Thursday, May 19th at 6pm, featured guest speakers Dr. Robyn Spencer, Soffiyah Elijah and Emory Douglas. The exhibition will be up until September 15, 2016.
Democracy + Distrust
On May 3rd, Shani moderated Democracy and Distrust– an event at Federal Hall organized by the New York Council for the Humanities. The fantastic panel featured:
Christopher Lebron, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and African American Studies at Yale University
Michael Lynch, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut and Director of the Humanities Institute
Deva Woodly, Assistant Professor of Politics at The New School
In the words of the Council, “Race and opportunity are contested territory in our current political climate. How did we get here? Can we begin to mend relations in the face of systemic inequalities? How can dialogue catalyze change? This program aims to address how we can restore trust in one another and in our political system, build safer and stronger communities, and move beyond entrenched opinions through intentional acts of conversation.
The Democracy in Dialogue Project was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.”
Shani co-facilitated a discussion about art, culture and identity at The Gathering– a group of brilliant and talented dancers, choreographers and scholars who come together annually during the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference. In the words of the organizer Camille A. Brown, this convening “serve[s] as an open forum for intergenerational black female artists to support one another and to advocate for greater cultural equity and acknowledgement in the contemporary dance world.” If you weren’t there in person, check out the link below to see Shani and Paloma McGregor at work via the archived livestream…
2015 was a year packed with global travel, exhibition opportunities, community engagement programs & media mentions. See below for some highlights.
Art + Creative Change
One of the biggest highlights of 2015 happened as the year came to a close–the Smithsonian Channel interviewed Shani about her artistic practice, global travels and community work! See below for a sneak peek behind the scenes of this developing project…
Shani also had photography featured in a number of art exhibits last year, including All Rise at Princeton University’s Bernstein Gallery and The Time Is Now at the SCOPE Art Show, presented by the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. Her piece in the Respond exhibit at the Smack Mellon gallery was mentioned in the New York Times as emblematic of the take-away message of what they described as “a knockout group show” that “produced a soundtrack of shouts, cries, chants and whispers to set against the wall of insulating white noise that enwraps the art world at large.”
Socially engaged art and internationalism are at the core of Shani’s work, and she delivered a speech about that at the Black Portraitures conference in Florence, Italy last summer. Video of the panel, Sister Outsider: Black American Women, Identity and Global Travel, and other featured presentations are posted on blackportraitures.info. Press play to check this work out!
Lastly, Writing On It All–which is an organization that offers artists a platform for building a site-specific creative practice– invited Shani to lead a community installation at Governor’s Island. She was given an entire house to use as her canvas, to imagine and invite others to imagine with her, what kind of future we could create if Black women and girls were safe from state sponsored violence. Shortly thereafter she went upstate to do a residency at Ryder Farms, which supports innovative practitioners who work at the intersection of art and social change. She spoke about the impact of her respective projects at the Creative Solutions symposium in NYC.
Public Speaking + Public Service
In December, Shani celebrated International Human Rights Day by curating Open Season 2015, an evening of art + performance + conversation about women and girls in our culture of confinement. The event was held at the National Black Theatre in Harlem, with additional support provided by The Studio Museum in Harlem, the International Center of Photography, the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, Angela’s Pulse and Dancing While Black. Click here to see gorgeous photos, check out the social media buzz and watch a full length video of the event.
Open Season is one of a number of events she’s organized in her capacity as a Managing Director of the Urban Justice Center. Another that bears mention is the 10th annual arts based human rights training that was held in New York City last May. This three day institute engaged a select cohort of social justice advocates from around the country. Participants discussed cultural strategy, community building and ways to use human rights mechanisms to address inequality in the U.S. Congrats to the latest class, who now join a nationwide cohort of really impressive alumni!
Finally, she made a small contribution to keeping creative change in the media: writing about attending the Movement for Black Lives conference in Cleveland and the Selma-Montgomery commemoration in Alabama in her Huffington Post blog and continuing to serve as a regular contributor to The Spin— an internationally broadcast program hosted by Esther Armah that now reaches Ghana, Nigeria and cities throughout the U.S.
There are a ton of events and exhibits in the works for 2016! The next one up is The Gathering, a group of dancers, choreographers and scholars organized by Camille A. Brown. Shani will be joining a longtime collaborator and friend Paloma McGregor to facilitate a meaningful discussion about culture and identity with the participants.
Additionally, she will appear on the January 20th edition of The Spin with Esther Armah, Joan Morgan and and Dr. Christina Greer. The broadcast will be archived on SoundCloud.
Wishing each of you all the best for an amazing 2016! This new year needs us to bring our best to the table. Let’s continue to make an impact, inspiring each other along the way.
This year Shani celebrated International Human Rights Day by curating Open Season, an evening of art + performance + conversation about women and girls in our culture of confinement. This thought provoking program, held at the National Black Theatre, featured a rendering of Itagua Meji and performances curated by Dancing While Black. It also provided an opportunity for the community to engage with leading thinkers and artists who are confronting mass incarceration such as Nina Angela Mercer, Ebony Noelle Golden, Aimee Meredith Cox, Nakisha Lewis, Donna Hylton, Lumumba Bandele and more.
Gorgeous photos and a full length video of the event are now available to share with you! In addition, all of the social media buzz about Open Season was chronicled on Storify. Check out the links to either see what you missed or relive an extraordinary evening.
Open Season 2015 was presented by the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center and the National Black Theatre: Institute for Action Arts. Additional support was provided by The Studio Museum in Harlem, the International Center of Photography, NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, Angela’s Pulse and Dancing While Black.
As we enter into this holiday season bearing the unwelcome news that there will be no indictments in the death of Sandra Bland, please lift up the names, spirits and families of those who’ve been impacted by this crisis during this time. In spite of it all, we will win.
Shani Jamila is a Brooklyn based conceptual artist and writer whose work explores identity, ancestry and the importance of place. She utilizes her family’s genealogical records as a primary source, and her travels to nearly fifty countries throughout the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean also deeply inform her practice. Jamila is a 2020-21 Artist Fellow in fine arts/ painting at The National Arts Club. She’s been awarded fellowships and residencies to support her work from MASS MoCA, TED, the Aspen Institute, Ace Hotel and the J. William Fulbright Foundation. Her podcast, Lineage, features artist to artist dialogues about the idea of home. Shani's portrait and quote are featured in “A Choice to Change the World,” a permanent installation at her alma mater Spelman College.