Process Notes on Creating Performative / Exhibition Experiences

My process for both performance and exhibition is always about responding to the space-time opportunities that present themselves. For this reason, I often have only inklings of what I’d like to present and how it might go – rather than a clear concrete design.

Typically, any plan that I come up with in advance is guided by the overall intention I have for a piece / experience, but is ultimately shaped by spontaneous impulses and intuition as I’m going along.

This is what happened recently, in Mexico City for example, when I unexpectedly started off a presentation with a glass apothecary jar that I had sitting on the table – opening it, listening to it, closing it, then passing it around the room asking each audience member to whisper the name of an invisible thing into the bottle.  I had no idea that I was going to start the presentation that way.

Once I step into the performative state, it seems I enter a new fluid space where anything can happen. I suppose you could say I improvise, although I don’t think of it as improvisation. It’s rather a dynamic flow space that inspires me to dance within the moment.


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Ajamu Kojo: Black Wall Street Portraits

Invisible histories. Here’s another bit of American history I never heard anything about until now. It’s worth remembering history, in order to honor the lives lost and to do all that we can to prevent hate crimes from continuing today and in the future. None of us are free until we are all free, safe, loved & respected.

. . . . .

Published on Culture Type:

In a Series of Dignified Portraits, Ajamu Kojo Recalls the Racial Violence that Destroyed ‘Black Wall Street’ Nearly 100 Years Ago

Accessed Feb 26 2020.

NEARLY A CENTURY AGO, the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Okla., was destroyed. The thriving black business district known as Black Wall Street was besieged in 1921, from May 31 to June 1, by a white mob attacking residents and their homes and businesses. The massacre leveled 35 square blocks, killing countless people (reports range from 39 to 300) and leaving thousands homeless. Schools, theaters, a church, a library, doctor’s offices, law offices, shops, and restaurants were left in ruins.

An ongoing series of formal portraits by Ajamu Kojo‘s immortalizes the citizens of Greenwood. He envisions the individuals and families, entrepreneurs and professionals who formed the fabric of the African American community. He’s documented Sean and Lucy Mackey, progressives who worked in real estate, for example, and Mary Elizabeth Jones Parrish, an author who published an eyewitness account of the massacre in 1923.

The portraits are on view in “Black Wall Street: The Case for Reparations” at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in Brooklyn. Kojo is presenting seven works borne of rigorous research, a collapsing of time and disciplines.

Born in Little Rock, Ark., Kojo lives and works in Brooklyn. To make the paintings, he cast people who knew from his neighborhood—artists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs—and immersed his sitters in period environments. He designed the sets, selected the furniture, and chose the costumes. A scenic artist who works in film and television while maintaining a formal painting practice, he draws on his myriad experience and also connects the contemporary moment to one of the most violent racial incidents in U.S. history. The project is about uplifting memories, shared histories, and how reflections of the past echo in the present.

The project is about uplifting memories, shared histories, and how reflections of the past echo in the present.

For generations, the 1921 massacre was largely forgotten. Kojo first heard about it at Howard University, where he studied film and television production and theater arts. Years later, he learned more in a 2016 video, a first-hand account from Olivia Hooker (1915-2018). A professor of psychology, she was one of the first black women to join the U.S. Coast Guard and one of the last living residents of Greenwood.

Hooker was a member of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. Established by the state of Oklahoma in 1997, the commission issued a report in 2001. A section detailed state and city culpability and called for reparations. The U.S. House of Representatives later described the report as “detailing for the first time the extent of the city and State government’s involvement in the riot and in the cover-up that followed and the total lack of remedy available in the courts at that time.”

The few survivors that remained when the report was issued and their many descendants have yet to see any reparations. More recently, mainstream awareness of the Tulsa Massacre has been triggered by the integration of the history in the foundational storyline of “Watchmen,” the HBO series starring Regina King. In addition, the incident is being incorporated in school curriculums. News accounts are increasing, tourism in Tulsa is up, and Black Wall Street 1921, a new podcast, was recently launched in anticipation of the 100-year anniversary of the massacre in 2021. While awareness of the massacre has grown, meaningful acknowledgement of its profound legacy of destruction is harder to come by.

Kojo is continuing his series of reimagined portraits and plans to identify new sitters soon for upcoming works. The paintings transport his friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to the early 20th century with soft, layered details that evidence elaborate interiors and also age the images and add characteristics of ruin. In stark contrast, opaque black paint drips down from the top of each canvas.

The exhibition description explains the meaning of this particular detail: “This is a nod to the crude oil that was a source of much of the capital that was the bedrock of the [Greenwood] community’s success. It is also a representation of the ominous events to come.” CT

Ajamu Kojo, “Black Wall Street: The Case for Reparations” is on view at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, Brooklyn, Feb. 8-22, 2020

TOP IMAGE: AJAMU KOJO, “Black Blood, No. 1: In the spirit of John, Loula & Joanna Williams family, Entrepreneurs,” 2017 (mischtechnik on linen, 72 x 96 inches). | © Ajamu Kojo

READ MORE In 2001, the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 issued a repot on the massacre

AJAMU KOJO, “Black Blood, No. 2: In the spirit of J.B. Stradford, Attorney,” 2017 (mischtechnik on linen, 48 x 36 inches). | © Ajamu Kojo, Courtesy Jenkins Johnson

Installation view of Ajamu Kojo, “Black Wall Street: The Case for Reparations,” Jenkins Johnson Gallery, Brooklyn (Feb. 8-22, 2020). | Courtesy Jenkins Johnson

AJAMU KOJO, “Black Blood, No.6: In the spirit of Sam & Lucy Mackey, Progressives; Real Estate,” 2017 (mischtechnik on linen canvas, 72 x 96 inches). | © Ajamu Kojo, Courtesy Jenkins Johnson

AJAMU KOJO, “Black Blood, No.3: In the spirit of Mary Elizabeth Jones Parrish, Published Author,” 2017 (mischtechnik on linen canvas, 48 x 36 inches). | © Ajamu Kojo, Courtesy Jenkins Johnson

Installation view of Ajamu Kojo, “Black Wall Street: The Case for Reparations,” Jenkins Johnson Gallery, Brooklyn (Feb. 8-22, 2020). | Courtesy Jenkins Johnson




Through a friend, I recently learned of this transdisciplinay performance. It resonates with the themes I’m addressing in my research, and I would dearly love to see it. I hope it goes on tour and makes it’s way to Jacob’s Pillow or New York…

Published on Moving Poets




HEAVEN, February 27 – March 1, 2020 | Thu – Sat 8pm, Sun 7pmBooth Playhouse, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center | 130 North Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC 28202


A startling theatrical modern fairy tale roller coaster ride
– through conflict and chaos, courage and kindness.

Join Moving Poets 30+ performers, visual artists and musicians for the world premiere of HEAVEN.

Inspired by the poem FALLEN MOON FALLEN STARS by North Carolina’s award-winning poet Chuck Sullivan and the work of nationally & internationally acclaimed artists from Charlotte and beyond.

Told through contemporary dance, theater, music, film, video-mapping and visual arts, the story travels through realities and dreams of Maria-Helena, a detained immigrant child.

Separated from her parents and maneuvering an upside-down heaven in her holding cage, she learns that to be released she must find a “lamp besides the golden door.”

Supported by Mother Mary and the ghost of Maria-Helena’s murdered brother, she discovers it hidden under the treasures of a narcissistic Pinocchio.

To give up the lamp, Pinocchio must lose his treasures and become a real “Mensch” – with the help of the audience, whose own response and participation may change events in HEAVEN.

The world premiere stage production HEAVEN, creatively utilizes a vast range of voices that are distinct in their tones, timbres and rhythms and challenges misunderstandings that currently divide our communities. Many of our collaborating artists are foreign born Charlotteans (including Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, Germany, Switzerland). In keeping with Moving Poets core mission, we work with a community of artists of different cultures, age groups and disciplines. Not only does the project highlights the challenges of migration and displacement but reflects, emphasizes and celebrates the culturally diverse, rich experiences and valuable contributions of natives and immigrants to our community.

The production is the culmination of four previous developmental stages of the larger evolving project We See Heaven Upside Down* (WSHUD). Informed by previous iterations, the international arts and outreach program utilizes the visual and performing art to create dialogue to promote empathy and understanding of migration, displacement and identity. Additionally the project examines how we share space with each other and how we are connected through our own family history.

Theatrically HEAVEN it is rooted in contemporary dance-theater with a sharp satirical edge and no fear of the absurd. Images can be startling and eerily beautiful, influences from Martha Graham to Pina Bausch to Samuel Becket may come to mind. Musically it ranges from acoustic melodically on traditional instruments through avantgarde experimental compositions with power tools and sound objects, to club music and hip-hop. While the story unfolds, the audience finds itself to become part of it, being challenged to engage and to, not unlike in an escape room, help find the key to a way out.

HEAVEN’s local, national and international artists come from North & South American, Native, African, Asian, Middle Eastern and European backgrounds and range in ages from 15 to 75. They include uniquely talented young performers as well as award winning and highly accomplished veterans, whose work is collected by major museums like the Smithsonian, who are inducted in to the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame, received recognitions like a Grammy Nomination, the Sam Regan Award for lifetime achievement and who are current & former members of companies like Martha Graham Company, Sasha Waltz & Guests, The Grateful Dead and Life Dead & Riders69 ….

Visual Artists: Nico Amortegui (CO) | MyLoan Dinh (VN|US) | Michelle Gregory (US) | Rosalia Torres-Weiner (MX)

Performers: MyLoan Dinh (VN/US) | Perry Eastman (US)| Sara Eastman (US)| Katherine Goforth (US)
Cynthia Farbman Harris (US) | Mike Harris (UK/US) | Movement Migration Kim Jones & E.E. Balcos (US)
Chuck Sullivan (US) | Alyce Cristina Vallejo (US) | Rosalia Torres-Weiner (MX) | Nina Bischoff* (US) | Juan Castellanos* (US) | Sarah Clarke* (US) | Sabriyya Dean* (US) | Alex Griffith* (US) | Danielle Lieberman* (US) | Eric Stith* (US) | (* with kind support of Charlotte Ballet and Charlotte Ballet Academy)

Musicians: Tanja Bechtler (US/CH), cello | Tom Constanten (US), Keys | David Crowe (US), percussion | DAE-LEE (US), vocals| Mike Kenerley (US), drums | Milad Khawam (SYR), trumpet | Till Schmidt-Rimpler (DE), bass | Bob Teixeira (US), guitars | Joe Wilson (US), saxophone

Choreographers: Maya Gomez (DE/ES) | Kim Jones (US) | Till Schmidt-Rimpler (DE)

Music by: David Crowe (US) | Dae-Lee (US) | Joe Wilson (US) | Tom Constanten (US) with additional contributions by all musicians

Music director and composer: David Crowe (US)

Poet: Chuck Sullivan (US)

Writers: Chuck Sullivan (US) | Mike Harris (UK) | Katherine Goforth (US)

Film Maker: Dellair Youssef (SYR) | Projection/Video Mapping: Shawman (US) | Light Design: Wink Lighting (US) | Videos & sound effects: Moving Poets
Additional artists to be announced.

Artistic direction: MyLoan Dinh & Till Schmidt Rimpler

* We See Heaven Upside Down is an evolving dialog initiated in Berlin, Germany, in 2015 by artist MyLoanDinh – herself a former refugee of the Vietnam War. Moving Poets has since developed it into an international creative conversation. At the heart of the project lie inspiring stories expressed through contemporary arts.

It challenges misconceptions and prejudices that currently divide our communities by heeding a vast range of voices thereby forming connective tissue between a multiplicity of distinct experiences. In and through visual, performing and multi-disciplinary arts, the project seeks to spur and inspire moments of genuine empathy and understanding towards other individuals and their journeys.

In 2016 We See Heaven Upside Down had its first two public migrations at Moving Poets NOVILLA in Berlin, with support of the Department of Culture and Museums Berlin Treptow-Köpenick, the German Federal Ministry for Families, Seniors, Women and Youth, the Program for Democracy Lives.

In 2017 the third migration was the Visual Arts headliner for Sensoria Art Festival 2017, Ross Galleries, Central Piedmont Community College. In 2018 it was awarded the ASC Cultural Vision Grant in Charlotte. It started its 4th migration in March 2018 and developed through numerous events and activities into a 6 week program in partnership with ElderGallery of Contemporary Art in May/June 2019.

To date it has had input from 65 artists, including established and emerging visual artists, acclaimed performers and musicians, distinguished poets and hundreds of students and citizens, local refugee agencies and Native American associations. More than 5,000 visitors have experienced the migrating exhibitions, attended performances and concerts and participated in outreach programs.

Moving Poets Charlotte are very grateful to be a recipient of the inaugural The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Celebrate Charlotte Arts Grant (info), the Arts & Science Council Cultural Vision Grant, a Reemprise Fund grant and a Blumenthal Performing Arts Center location sponsorship, all supporting the production of HEAVEN!

The Language of Being is Wordless

I just came across the work of Portuguese poet, Ana Hatherly who worked both visually and poetically, often crossing genres.

What prompted the discovery? It was an image included in the email signature of another creative academic from Portugal, Anabela Duarte, who organized the Invisible Republics conference that I participated in in 2017.

In her email signature, she included this:

“the reinvention of reading” (1975), by Ana Hatherly

Ana Hatherly

This led me to investigate her work further, and immediately, I was delighted and found kinship with another creative who is passionate about expression through both language and form.

Her work resonates with my own love for language, sensation, expression and form. And, remarkably, there are some visual similarities to her mark-making style that correlate to a series of “survival drawings” I did in the early 2000’s.


I find the way she plays with text-based visual work (as above) very compelling. And the flow of imagery and sensation portrayed in her poems.

Here are a couple that resonated:


O meu nome é JÁ
My name is NOW
Eu grito o resto do resto
I cry out the surplus
A ciência da perspicácia
The science of sagacity
O jardim passional da alma
The passionate inner-garden
A escolha da melhor parte
The choice pick
O meu nome é acção: ANA ANA
My name is deed: ME ME
Quando é que eu disse noli me tangere
When did I say don’t touch me
A linguagem do ser não são palavras
The language of being is wordless

*The translation of each line is an integral and inseparable part of the poem.

Unpublished poem by Portuguese poet Ana Hatherly found here:

The poem below was also found here:

. . .

I’m thrilled to know of her work, and look forward to digging deeper!



One baroque poet said:
The words are
The eyes’ tongues
But what is a poem
If not
A telescope of desire
Focused by language?
The sinuous flight of the birds
The tall waves of the sea
The lull of the wind:
Everything fits into words
And the poet who sees
Weeps tears of ink
Um poeta barroco disse:
As palavras são
As línguas dos olhos
Mas o que é um poema
Um telescópio do desejo
Fixado pela língua?
O voo sinuoso das aves
As altas ondas do mar
A calmaria do vento:
Tudo cabe dentro das palavras
E o poeta que vê
Chora lágrimas de tinta
© Translated by Ana Hudson, 2010
in O Pavão Negro, 2003