Shani's Blog

Hello lovelies,

I’m excited to let you know that I’ve curated an exhibit called We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains, which showcases the art of former Black Panther Party Minister of Culture Emory Douglas.

Hope to see you there!

Shani

Exhibit Opening

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

Many thanks to those of you who came to the New York Council for the Humanities event I moderated, Democracy and Distrust on May 3rd at Federal Hall. It was such a pleasure to work with the fantastic panel, which 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.”

Yesterday I was honored to co-facilitate 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 APAP. 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 join me and Paloma McGregor at work via livestream…

The Gathering 2016

 

 

 

Happy new year family!

As we step into 2016, I am feeling excited about what’s to come and deeply thankful for what’s been. 2015 was a year packed with global travel, exhibition opportunities, community engagement programs & media mentions. Several highlights are shared in this newsletter. As always, thank you for your interest in and support of my work!

With eyes to the future,

Shani

Art + Creative Change

One of the biggest highlights of 2015 happened as the year came to a close–the Smithsonian Channel interviewed me about my artistic practice, global travels and community work! See below for a sneak peek behind the scenes of this developing project…

I’m also happy to share that I 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. My 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 my work, and I had the chance to deliver a speech about that at the Black Portraitures conference in Florence, Italy last summer. Video of our panel, Sister Outsider: Black American Women, Identity and Global Travel, and other featured presentations are posted on blackportraitures.info, which is an incredible resource. I encourage you to press play and check this work out!

After the conference concluded, I went on to spend several weeks touring the country– studying art and philosophy as a David Driskell fellow with the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. It was an amazing opportunity to further immerse myself in these subjects that I love, and to see them come to life through experiences like visiting museums in Sienna and the Venice Biennale. In addition to Italy, this year saw international travel to the Philippines, Abu Dhabi, Russia, Thailand and Taiwan.

Lastly, Writing On It All–which is an organization that offers artists a platform for building a site-specific creative practice– invited me to lead a community installation at Governor’s Island. I was given an entire house to use as my canvas, to imagine and invite others to imagine with me, what kind of future we could create if Black women and girls were safe from state sponsored violence. Shortly thereafter I went upstate to do a residency at Ryder Farms, which supports innovative practitioners who work at the intersection of art and social change. My colleagues and I spoke about the impact of our respective projects at the Creative Solutions symposium in NYC.

Public Speaking + Public Service

In December, I 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 I’ve organized in my 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. We discussed cultural strategy, community building and ways to use human rights mechanisms to address inequality in the U.S. Congrats to our latest class, who now join a nationwide cohort of really impressive alumni!

Just before the institute began, I gave a presentation about my work fusing the arts and human rights at NYU’s Creative Arts and Social Work conference. Six months later I was back on campus to speak about social practice at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Tisch School of the Arts. It was an honor to join a powerhouse group of artists and change makers as we talked about how we use cultural work to empower our communities.

Finally, I 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 my 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.

Alumnae Success

I was thrilled to have my career achievements recognized by my beloved alma mater, who featured a collage of my work on the school’s home page in February of 2015. The artwork was accompanied by an alumnae success profile called Human Rights Advocate Travels the Globe in Pursuit of Change. Thank you Spelman!

Next Up

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. I will be joining a longtime collaborator and friend Paloma McGregor to facilitate a meaningful discussion about culture and identity with the participants.

Additionally, I 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 I celebrated International Human Rights Day by curating Open Season, an evening of art + performance + conversation about women and girls in our culture of confinement. I’m happy to share that 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, I ask you to please join me in lifting up the names, spirits and families of those who’ve been impacted by this crisis during this time. In spite of it all, I believe that we will win.

Sending light to each of you.

Open Season 2015
Thursday, December 10th; 6pm
2031 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10035

On Thursday, December 10th (Human Rights Day), I curated Open Season 2015– an evening of art + performance + conversation about women and girls in our country’s 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.

Open Season 2015 was an international human rights day event presented by the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center and the National Black Theatre. Additional support was provided by The Studio Museum in Harlem, Angela’s Pulse, the International Center of Photography and NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics.

Many thanks to everyone who came!

This month began with back to back speaking engagements about my work. On Friday, October 2nd, I spoke at the 50th anniversary commemoration of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts as part of an exciting discussion about art and social change. It was an honor to join a powerhouse group of change makers as we talked about how we use cultural work to empower our communities.

On Saturday October 3rd, I spoke at the Creative Solutions symposium. This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a residency in upstate New York, where I was given time and support to do my work at the intersection of art and social change. It was a thrill to join colleagues from a number of progressive social justice organizations to speak about our projects and share our experiences there.

Many thanks to those of you that came out to make both of these engagements a full house!

Happy Summer Friends,

I hope this newsletter finds you well! It’s with excitement that I write to share some of my highlights from the past several months. For more, feel free to check out my website, www.shanijamila.com.

Wishing you joy,

Shani
Installations + International Travel

It was such an honor to deliver my talk on citizen artists during the Black Portraiture{s} II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories conference in Florence, Italy this May. The gathering of artists, curators, and scholars including Carrie Mae Weems, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Renee Cox and Sanford Biggers was truly historic.

I’m so proud of our panel Sister Outsider: Black American Women, Identity and Global Travel. I was humbled to share the stage with my fellow speakers– Michaela Angela Davis, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Sharon Harley, Asia Leeds and moderator Cheryl Finley– who each presented with their characteristic grace, insight and clarity. For those of you who asked about how to see what we did, check out the video!

My talk begins at the 13 minute mark, but I definitely encourage you to take in the session in its entirety. Additionally, more videos from the conference are posted at blackportraitures.info, they are definitely worth watching.

After the conference concluded, I went on to spend several weeks touring Italy as I studied art and philosophy as a David Driskell fellow with the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. It was an amazing opportunity to further immerse myself in these subjects that I love, and to see them come to life through experiences like visiting museums in Sienna and the Venice Biennale.

Upon my return in June, I had the opportunity to lead an arts workshop/ community installation in honor of Black women and girls who’ve been impacted by state violence. Thanks to the wonderful staff of Writing On It All, we had a whole empty house on Governor’s Island to use as our collective canvas!

I really enjoyed working with the dancers, community members and fellow artists that took a ferry from either Brooklyn or lower Manhattan to participate in Altar. It was a lovely opportunity to transform the space and our spirits.

In the immediate wake of McKinley and Fairfield, and in the midst of this larger moment, we need to seize every opportunity to create sacred spaces for healing, creative resistance and expression. May the vision we articulated for Black women and girls come to pass.

 

Conferences + Media Mentions

For the past several years, in my capacity as the Director of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center, I’ve organized an arts based training that engages a select cohort of social justice advocates from around the country.

Our tenth annual institute was held in New York City this May. We discussed cultural strategy, community building and ways to use human rights mechanisms to address inequality in the U.S. I always learn a lot from both our facilitators and our fellows. Congrats to our latest class, who now join a nationwide cohort of really impressive alumni.

Just before the institute began, I had the opportunity to speak about my work fusing the arts and human rights at NYU’s Creative Arts and Social Work conference.  Many thanks to the organizers, especially Dr. Deborah Willis who chaired our panel and invited me to participate.

Finally, as regular readers of this newsletter know, I am a contributor to the internationally broadcast, all women of color radio show hosted by Esther Armah– The Spin. In May, I joined dream hampton and Glynda Carr to discuss White on White Crime: Texas Shoot Out, the Boycott Nike and Say Her Name campaigns. Click here to tune in. The first season of 2015 ended with the same group that began it: writer asha bandele, political scientist Dr. Christina Greer and me discussing Haiti and the Dominican Republic, vaccines and the black body, and forgiveness in the wake of the Charleston massacre. If you’d like to hear this one, click here to listen to the show.

Thanks for taking the time to read up on the latest happenings in my life! I wish each of you all the best and look forward to staying in touch.

Dear Friends,

Sending sunshine to each of you! It’s been a productive first quarter of the year, it’s a pleasure to share some of my highlights with you. Looking forward to hearing about the work you are engaged in and to exploring ways we might collaborate.

Light,

Shani

Academic Announcements

Attending my beloved Spelman College will always be one of the best choices I ever made. As a student there my work was affirmed, my path was set, my chosen family was found. That is why I was so honored to have my career featured on Spelman’s home page during the month of February. Thank you, my cherished alma mater, for celebrating my work in the arts and human rights.

I’d also like to thank Princeton University. I’m happy to announce that my artwork is currently being shown in their All Rise exhibition. I traveled down to attend the opening reception, it was fantastic to meet so many wonderful people! For those of you in the vicinity, I strongly encourage you to visit the campus to view this show– open until April 4th.

Finally, I am really looking forward to presenting on global travel, art and social justice during Black Portraiture{s} II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories, an upcoming conference in Florence, Italy. This historic gathering of artists, curators, and scholars is being organized by Deborah Willis, Awam Amkpa, Ulrich Baer, Manthia Diawara, Robert Holmes, Ellyn Toscano from NYU; Henry Louis Gates from Harvard; and Thelma Golden from the Studio Museum of Harlem. Participants include Michaela angela Davis, Carrie Mae Weems, Mickalene Thomas, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Hank Willis Thomas, Imani Uzuri, Sanford Biggers and more. To preview the full schedule, click here.

Art Exhibits + Media Mentions

In addition to the Princeton show mentioned above, I was so excited to have artwork exhibited at the SCOPE New York flagship fair this March, as part of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation’s The Time Is Now exhibit. The show, which featured twenty Rush contemporary alumni artists, was held one block across from The Armory Show piers at Metropolitan Pavilion West alongside 60 international galleries.

In media news, I’m humbled to note that it has now been ten years since Decipher Radio launched on WPFW 89.3FM in Washington D.C.! I participated in the anniversary broadcast, which included retrospectives from all of us who were founding members. I’ll always be grateful that my first gig as a radio talk show host allowed such creative freedom, intellectual rigor and just plain fun. Please join me in offering continued support for this strip of programming and in wishing a happy anniversary to Decipher: the music, the movement, the message.

I’d also like to give a shout out to The Spin, the internationally broadcast radio program hosted by Esther Armah that I am proud to be a regular contributor to. Since my last letter to you I’ve participated in two new episodes– in March 2015 I was on with Dr. Blair Kelley to discuss Selma, Ferguson and the campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill. Click here to listen in. In January, I was on the first episode of 2015 with writer asha bandele and political scientist Dr. Christina Greer. Here is the link to tune into that show.

Lastly, I have a new blog about my trip to Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery march, an event that came to occupy an iconic place in the American imagination. To check it out, visit my site on the Huffington Post.

I hope you enjoy!

Next Up

Next up, the tenth annual Human Rights Institute will be held in New York City this May. I always enjoy leading this arts based training that engages a select cohort of social justice advocates from around the country in my capacity as the director of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center.

Happy new year fam. Exciting news bubbling up today… First I’d like to let you know that one of my photographs is mentioned in an article from the front page of the arts section in Friday’s New York Times! The piece covers Respond– a fantastic exhibit I’m in at the Smack Mellon gallery. Details are below.

I’d also like to let you all know about a major opportunity for social justice advocates who are interested in learning more about human rights mechanisms. Applications are currently available for this Spring 2015 fellowship– to get yours or to send it out to your networks, simply scroll down.

Cheers,

Shani

I’m in the Arts Section of the New York Times!

I’m very happy to share that a photograph I captured during my time in Ferguson, which is currently featured in the Respond exhibit at the Smack Mellon Gallery, is mentioned in today’s New York Times as emblematic of the take-away message of the show! They describe it as “a knockout group show” that “has 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.” Click here to read the article in the NYT!

About The Exhibit: “After learning of the grand jury’s decision to not indict Daniel Pantaleo, Smack Mellon postponed a planned exhibition in order to respond to the continued failure of the United States to protect its black citizens from police discrimination and violence. In order to channel our outrage into actions that can facilitate systemic change, [the] gallery space will be used to present events, performances and artworks that affirm that black lives matter, express frustration and anger with the institutional racism that enables law enforcement to kill black members of the community with impunity, and imagine creative solutions and visionary alternatives to a broken justice system.”

EXHIBITION DETAILS:
92 Plymouth Street @ Washington
Brooklyn, NY 11201

January 17- February 22, 2015
Gallery hours: Wed-Sun, 12-6pm

My sincere thanks to Smack Mellon’s current Studio Artists Esteban del Valle, Molly Dilworth, Oasa DuVerney, Ira Eduardovna, Steffani Jemison, and Dread Scott, and the Smack Mellon staff, who were the lead organizers of RESPOND. Hope you’re able to check it out!

Human Rights Training Opportunity

_______________________________________________

10th Annual Human Rights Institute


_______________________________________________

The Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center is pleased to announce that applications for our 10th annual Human Rights Institute (HRI) are currently available. The institute promotes good governance and social change by training a select group of participants from around the country to strengthen their local advocacy efforts by using a human rights frame. Alumni become part of a nationwide community of advocates and have access to ongoing education, technical support, and dialogue. This year’s HRI, co-sponsored by the U.S. Human Rights Network, will be held from May 7-9, 2015 in New York City.

_______________________________________________

To obtain a copy of the application, please click here.

Applications with scholarship requests must be sent by February 23, 2015. The deadline for applications without a scholarship request is February 27, 2015.

This week we celebrated International Human Rights Day on Wednesday, 12/10/14. I’m proud to have curated Open Season that evening– an event where we explored how to achieve a cultural shift in our country’s approach to policing and punishment. The program featured visual and performance art alongside moderated conversations with some of our brightest minds about our culture of confinement. We talked about the need for a paradigm shift that will allow for human rights to be at the center of our ideas about justice.  The overall message is that this is not a time to feel helpless. We can create our own opportunities to be creative about how we’ll construct a new way forward.

_____________________________________________

I’m so thankful to all of the people who participated. We featured the vision and voices of leading thinkers and artists:
*Dr. William Jelani Cobb, UConn Professor and New Yorker contributor
*Bryonn Bain, Poet and New York University Professor
*Esther Armah, Syndicated Radio Host- The Spin
*Lumumba Bandele, NAACP Legal Defense Fund
*Paloma McGregor, Dancer and Choreographer
*Vincent Warren, Center for Constitutional Rights

Our opening dance performance was rendered by Orlando Hunter, Ricarrdo Valentine and Brittany Williams to a soundscape by DJ Jahsonic. Give Your Hands to Struggle was choreographed by the legendary Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and performed by Chanon Judson and Christine King. Each of these performances was curated with an initiative that endlessly inspires me, Dancing While Black.

Music by Jacob Cohen and visual art by Jerome Lagarrigue, Russell Frederick, Brian Polite, Dominique Sindayiganza, Russel Craig, (and me!)  really set the tone for the evening.

Open Season was curated by me in my capacity as an artist and the Director of the Human Rights Project, but it simply could not have been done without our amazing community partners: the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, NYU’s Prison Education Program, Angela’s Pulse and Articulations. Each member of this dream team committed countless hours to helping think through and plan the event and I couldn’t be more grateful. Additional support was provided by two institutions I deeply respect- the Urban Bush Women and the Studio Museum in Harlem.  The event was documented thanks to the generosity of the International Center for Photography.

We had a full house come through to support, many of whom were actively spreading the word about what we were doing on social media under the hashtag #openseason. One of our amazing attendees, A. Nia Austin-Edwards, put together this assemblage of tweets and photos that capture our night together. Check it out!