Perhaps, while strolling down the sidewalks of New York City, or scanning your Instagram feed, you’ve encountered a thick crop of black block letters set against a neon yellow background that read “Lower the Pitch of Your Suffering,” or “Tell Your Struggle With Triumphant Humor.” If so, you have already been privy to the terse power of Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s art. If you have ever kept a stack of ticket stubs or love letters in a shoebox under your bed, or taken a deep dive into the old issues of Ebony magazine beside your grandmother’s coffee table, then you are also acquainted with the ritualistic source of that power. While Rasheed’s creative process manifests in diverse ways—from slick text-based posters and superimposed projections of black family photographs to installations comprised of hundreds of pieces of ephemera—her interest in mining, complicating, and resurfacing historical narratives persists.

In addition to her various ongoing solo projects, Rasheed recently joined with more than one hundred of her peers under the banner of Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter. This group, originally convened by artist Simone Leigh in conjunction with her 2016 show at the New Museum, has already mounted an impressive slate of performances, workshops, installations, and ritual happenings, all in support of black life, health, and collective joy. And it is just getting started. As Rasheed, who serves as the group’s official archivist, explains, “We’re really imagining this as a movement of multiple chapters. We are thinking about horizontal organization, honoring people’s capacities and how every person plays a part in the process.”

Rasheed, who grew up Muslim in East Palo Alto, California, during the first dot-com gentrification wave, has taken a somewhat anomalous route to prominence in the contemporary art world. She spent the first decade of her professional life as a social studies teacher, earning a master’s in secondary education from Stanford University in 2008. As an undergrad at Pomona College, she studied public policy and Africana before going off on an Amy Biehl Fulbright Scholarship to South Africa—a country to which she retains close personal and professional ties. Her lifelong commitment to education, not as hierarchical and dogmatic, but as messy and open, emerges in the questions that motivate her work and in the way she chooses to put it into the world.

Now based in New York City, Rasheed has shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Bronx Museum, the Queens Museum, MoCADA, the Schomburg Center, and Jack Shainman Gallery, to name only a few. She has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, most recently from Smack Mellon in DUMBO, where she is a current resident in the Artist Studio program. She is also a prolific writer whose longform interviews (frequently of prominent or emerging black creatives) have appeared in The Guardian, The New Inquiry, Longreads, and Creative Time Reports. When we spoke by phone earlier this year, she was generous with her ideas and with her time.

Imani Roach for Guernica

Guernica: You began your career not as an artist but as a social studies teacher. What grade level did you teach and what called you to that profession?

Kameelah Rasheed: I taught high school and worked with kids aged twelve to about twenty-two. I did that from college up through 2013, so for about a decade. I chose social studies because I hated history as a kid, and I thought there had to be a better way to make sense of the world. I was interested in figuring out how to intervene pedagogically in the way that kids who look like me are taught history.

Guernica: That seems apropos, since your work as an artist is also very concerned with history.

Kameelah Rasheed: When I was in middle school and high school, the thing that was most frustrating about how we learned history was the assumption that it charted along a linear path and that there were no interruptions, no moments when we were able to stop and think about why decisions were made. We were just told the decisions were made, and assigned to write a paper. I wanted to figure out, “What are those places in history where things don’t make sense and everyone has to pause because nobody has the answers?”

I’ve been reading a lot of Susan Howe. She’s a poet in her own right, but she also does a lot of work on Emily Dickinson and this idea of a glitch or a disobedient history—those points in history when things stop or stutter. I’m really interested in this idea of the stutter in history. As an educator, I used a lot of primary sources with my students in order to say, “Yes, this thing happened, but let’s analyze how it happened, and why it happened.”

In my own practice, I like thinking about those stutters, again, but also about footnotes—those parts of history that are so minute that they don’t end up in history books, but are still worth exploration. Maybe they focus on a particular neighborhood or a particular personal life experience. I spend a lot of time researching and thinking about the macro-narratives that exist around specific moments in history. Take, for example, the moment of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama as the first black president. Even if we are having a celebratory moment, where can we pull at the seams to figure out what other things are worth investigating?

I believe that how people engage with my practice is a pedagogical experience. I see my work as an opportunity to do the kind of historical thinking in a public space that I wasn’t given the opportunity to do as a student and that I tried to give to my students when I was a teacher. It’s an opportunity to look and to connect your own experience to what you’re seeing, but it’s also an opportunity to start thinking about how we’ve arrived at the world that we’ve arrived at and about what opportunities people have to intervene in those narratives to create their own knowledge about that process of arriving.

Guernica: At what point did you decide to become a visual artist, and why?

Kameelah Rasheed: I always loved art as a kid. I would spend hours sitting outside and drawing the lemon bush that was in my front yard. When I got to high school (a private Catholic school in the Bay Area), even though we had art class, it was very much focused on the core subjects and on getting everyone into an excellent college. While I appreciated having access to those resources and being able to attend a really excellent college, one thing that I think got lost in that process was that there wasn’t really space for me to creatively explore in the ways that would have been useful to me. So I still was engaged in the arts, but almost as a hobby or just something on the side.

I went to Pomona College, where I studied public policy and history, and continued to be interested in the arts. Then in 2005, during my second-to-last semester, I took a class on black aesthetics and the politics of representation with a professor named Phyllis Jackson. We spent a lot of time talking about how we arrive at different images of blackness in popular culture—how people are creating exhibitions around black folks, how we think about language in relation to black bodies and to black history. It really fascinated me because it was the first time I had the opportunity to think about how a lot of things that I was doing in my public policy and history work actually connect to the visual arts.

As part of this class we were asked to curate something, not an actual show, but we had to draw out the plans, we had to write up the statement, we had to think about all of these different things, and I got really deep into it in ways that other students who had been taking art classes all along may not have. I curated something on black artists and their re-imaginings of the American flag, so I looked at stuff by David Hammons, Faith Ringgold, and by a bunch of other artists, and basically organized an experience where people would walk into different spaces that had integrated audio and workshops and pedagogical stop points. I just got really, really into it.

It was the first place that I learned about a lot of the artists who were a part of the black arts movement in the ’60s and ’70s, and really understood how transformative their work was. But in looking for the work, I also realized that the archive that existed at the time, at least from what I had available to me through my school and through my interlibrary loan, was limited. I was looking for David Hammon’s work and couldn’t find it in many books and was running around to other students who had those images, and in the process I got very interested in archives, and what archives are available to document black histories. I became interested in who has access to those archives, and also in the quality of the things that are archived. It’s not just a matter of an archive being made, but it’s a matter of access, and who can actually get to these things without paying a fee or going through hoops and application processes just to see a document.

Guernica: It seems that much of your work, whether with Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter or as a solo practitioner, revolves around “the archive.” Do you see a distinction between your creative practice, which draws heavily from various archives, and the work that you do creating actual physical archives?

Kameelah Rasheed: I think about my work as an open circuit, where I’m seeing things and understanding intuitively, as I’m making, that they are related. Sometimes that relationship doesn’t surface until later when more pieces become available for me to establish those networks. If I’m at the beginning of a process and I don’t understand, for example, how this thing that I’m doing around invasive species or around fungi connects to any other work, I keep going because I know that eventually a relationship will be established. Even if it’s a relationship of tension, it’s still a relationship.

I reject the way that we have imagined the making of the archive as an administrative, objective, almost sterile process. I feel like archives are very dirty, very messy, really. Archiving is a subjective process; it’s a process that I hope engages and is relational and is not about someone sitting alone in an office. I have around four thousand found images of black families, and for me, making that archive is no different than creating an installation, because in both circumstances I’m collecting; I’m accumulating and I’m also trying to establish relationships between the things that I’m collecting. So in this archive of four thousand found images of black families, I’m making decisions. Do I categorize photos based upon the geographic location? Do I categorize photos based upon the year? Do I separate images of domestic settings from those of more public settings? The thought process that I go through when I’m archiving images is very similar to what I go through when I’m installing for shows: How do I organize what I’ve accumulated?

Guernica: So for you archiving is not just about making primary sources available and accessible, it’s also about how things are labeled and framed, in a sense?

Kameelah Rasheed: Yes. I think that archiving is an art. To be able to organize things in a way that makes sense to others, in a way that’s inviting, in a way that tells a story, is an artistic process. In its best form, archiving is about storytelling. No one collects or creates an archive just for the purpose of having it. It’s about wanting to tell a story, wanting that story to be available to people in the future, and wanting that story to be interrupted by people who have other materials to contribute in the future.

I’m not coming to this practice of archiving as someone who has studied it in school, I’m learning both about the ways that it’s done professionally and about the ways that black families have done it for centuries, just to hold onto things. I’m trying to figure out what’s the best middle ground between the institutional questions and the ways that grandmothers and aunts put stuff in plastic bags underneath their beds, or organized photo albums, or sewed things into socks. There are all of these different ways that black folks have been archiving for centuries because we’ve been very much aware of the possibility of someone saying that we never existed. I’m interested in validating the institutional forms of archiving as well as the very home-grown forms of archiving which obviously deserve credit because, for the most part, what we know about our own history has not come from institutions doing this work, it’s come from us holding onto things.

There is a reality that we were never meant to survive in this American context as anything more than slaves. Why do you need to archive a slave? Why do you need to archive property other than on a bill of payment or a bill of sale? We’ve always had to be responsible for ourselves. Institutions like the Schomburg [a branch of the NYPL which specializes in African American life and history] have the stated purpose of doing this and other spaces have been created, like the new museum [of African American history and culture] that just opened up in DC. They exist as repositories for a lot of private collections. The reality is that for a long time we had to do it on our own.

Guernica: The question of how institutions organize information reminds me of your recent Nomenclature project, the focal point of which is a series of identity markers, like “Negro” and “Colored,” printed in white on black backgrounds and arranged in a grid. Can you talk a little bit about the impetus behind that project and how those labels, if I may read them as labels, function for you?

Kameelah Rasheed: That project started out because I like doing research and I ended up going down a rabbit hole. My parents converted to Islam in the 1980s. Most black people have an uncle or someone who is a Muslim. So I became interested in the names that black Muslims have given to themselves over time as a way to distance themselves from names that they feel either subjugate them or de-historicize their presence in America. The project is about that litany of names. There is a point where black Muslims who had left the Nation of Islam in the 1970s started calling themselves “Bilaalians.” And there are other examples, obviously, of Jesse Jackson trying to talk about “Afro-Americans” or “African Americans.” Then there are people who are not adopting any of these names but becoming “Moorish Americans.” You have the Five Percenters who talk about “queens.” In doing research to find all of these names I was most fascinated by how each acquired a different type of historical past and implied a different type of future. I never saw them as oriented toward the present. I was interested in the temporal politics behind naming—in the present state, I know that I am assumed to be a ‘Negro’ or I’m assumed to be ‘Black,’ or whatever it is in that moment, but I can escape the present context through renaming.

I’m really interested in self-determination through renaming, but renaming doesn’t reorganize structural politics; it doesn’t change a lack of access to things. So I’m also trying to wrap my head around what self-determination and self-efficacy and positive self-esteem actually do for a collective community. Much of my analysis, up until the point of doing this work, was around structural issues and not about black people in America actually feeling good about themselves, and loving themselves. While that may not solve everything, it’s an excellent starting point. And so I think the project really helped me re-orient the interplay between personal imaginings of self and structural politics in a way that I hadn’t thought about before. People spent time on renaming, not just because they were bored, but because there is a belief that by renaming and reorienting who you believe you are and who you believe you can be, things will be better. I think that’s a really beautiful idea and something that we can return to.

Guernica: In terms of strategies for navigating what it means to be black in this country, one of the other things that you’ve spoken about is the idea of opacity or partial legibility as a tactic.

Kameelah Rasheed: We are at a point in history when visibility and inclusion are often conflated with radical change. If I hire a black person to be a screenwriter on my show, then radical change has occurred; if a person from a marginalized community who doesn’t traditionally get to be in the spotlight gets their fifteen minutes then, woah!, radical change has occurred. I’m really interested in interrogating visibility as a concession, as a premature celebration, because visibility in and of itself without the rigor of analyzing why certain people were invisible to begin with is limited. It is much more productive to think about how individuals can become not the first and only but the first of many.

I’m really focused on distinguishing between the optics of diversity and the actual structural impact of diversity. Everyone wants to hire a black person at their job, everyone wants to have a party around diversity, but are they really willing to do the work and make the sacrifices to get their organization (or our nation) to make structural change? That doesn’t come from cherry-picking people who will be hoisted up as markers of inclusion. At times we become fascinated or almost obsessed with symbols and with the optics of things without unpacking the impact that those symbols and those optics have.

There is a lot of focus on always showing your hand, and always telling people what you are doing—always asking for hyper-visibility as a radical move. But a lot of the radical work done in movements prior to our generation was not necessarily done through hyper-visibility. People covertly published things, and covertly educated people, and covertly got training. So I’m interested in how we can think about, not so much hiding, but strategic opaqueness—refusing to be legible.

There is also a persistent notion that in order to become palatable we need to package our history in a particular way and generalize it, and make it easy to understand. In doing so, though, we lose all of the nuance. I think it’s OK to be illegible; I think it’s OK to allow people to be confused because that’s a productive moment to incite people to do the real rigorous work of learning about history. We don’t always have to be visible in ways that are comfortable for other people because there is a sacrifice in that quick reading. I always go back to two people in thinking about this. Harryette Mullen, a poet based in LA now, writes about an ethic of reading where people are so quick to access information that they miss all of the nuance. I am very interested in an ethics of engagement, where we patiently engage with people in a durational practice of being. If I really want to understand the history of this small town in Northern California, I am not going to ask you to tell it to me in a tweet; I am going to do the work. The labor doesn’t always need to be on us; we can invite people to do the labor alongside us.

Then there’s Aria Dean, who wrote an essay that I keep referencing in almost every conversation I have with people, called “Poor Meme, Rich Meme,” in Real Life magazine, where she talks about black illegibility and the fact that for black people, on our own, there is no necessity for coherence. We can be as varied as we want to be. It is only when people need to read us and make sense of us that we consolidate ourselves, and in doing that we lose the variance in who we are. I’m trying to figure out the best ways to make us understandable without risking homogeneity or histories with easy narrative arcs.

Guernica: How did you get involved with Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter, and what has your role been?

Kameelah Rasheed: Simone Leigh, who if you didn’t already know is one of the most generous human beings I have met, sent out a message on Facebook saying that she had a space at the New Museum and that she wanted to make use of it. She brought together a group of us and said: “This space is technically mine, but I’m all about black women and sharing the space so that we can do real, good work.” So she turned it over to us to build out one day where we could speak to a lot of the issues [surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement], and not in a didactic way, or to say, “This situation is bad,” because we all know that this situation is bad. She provided a space for joy so that people could celebrate the life that is still here and the life that is being born into the world, and also for strategizing—for people to really think about the impact of these things, not only on our bodies but on our psyches.

From the beginning I said that I wanted to do all of the archiving. I’m really interested in where our archive will live, who will have access to it and how we create access. As things went along, I ended up doing a lot of the work just organizing emails and getting people coordinated for meetings and making sure small details were taken care of. In that process I became really invested in not actually making something, but instead being in the background making sure everyone else had the capacity and space to make what they needed to make. This was the first time that I had worked in this collaborative way where I wasn’t making a particular piece. I did end up having a small installation in the show, but that wasn’t the core of what I was doing. As we are moving into the later stages of the work (because people are still meeting and still organizing future events) it’s interesting for me to go back and think about where I want to pick up and where I see myself.

Getting involved is easy; the hard part always is sustaining the work, and I’m really excited that there is a core group of women who are planning things through the end of 2017. We’re thinking about how to sustain this. There [was] an event at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. And there was an event in the UK at the TATE with a bunch of black women. We’re really imagining this as a movement of multiple chapters. We are thinking about horizontal organization, honoring people’s capacities and how every person plays a part in the process.

Guernica: I know that you’ve done work in South Africa on a number of occasions, including when you did a Fulbright there. How do some of your questions around blackness, black aesthetics, and radical inclusion translate elsewhere in the diaspora?

Kameelah Rasheed: Black culture is an interesting thing to me because I feel like when I went to South Africa for the first time in 2005 I saw things that were very familiar, either in the ways that people used AAVE [African American Vernacular English], or in the way that people dressed, or in the music that they listened to. When I went back on the Fulbright in 2006 I saw more of those similarities. Each time I’ve been back (in 2008, in 2011, and then in 2015 and 2016), there seems to be a greater overlap in how I see blackness expressed in Johannesburg and how I see it expressed in New York. (I mention these two cities because they are the contexts I know the best.) There are similarities in how people are using language; there are similarities in how people are dressing; there are similarities in how people are making and consuming music. At least on a surface level, that’s what it looks like. The thing that is still unknown to me is, what are the other micro-historical processes that are happening beneath the surface of what we see as “black culture”?

In talking to some of my friends who work in music, we often discuss the things that are borrowed from American hip-hop in the South African context or things that are borrowed from West African culture in American hip-hop. In both cases, the thing that’s the most interesting to us is whether the borrowing is intentional and known or unintentional and unknown. When a kid in Soweto knows that he’s sampling a piece of a song from Kanye, that’s one thing, right? When there is a kid in America who is sampling some Fela beat, without really knowing about it, because there is still something that resonates for him, that’s another. Both scenarios present beautiful opportunities to think about why things feel intuitive and how that process of exchange can really open up dialogues.

There are a lot of transatlantic conversations between folks on the continent and in the United States, but I really wish that the conversation could be multi-directional and sustained. Some powerful synergy is happening, but I am most fascinated by the sharing that happens even without knowing. There is beauty when I go and see my friend in Soweto and they say something, or their grandmother will say something, and I think, that’s something my family would say because it’s a very Southern thing. It’s a moment of almost being time-warped. I always want to stay away from essentializing black culture, because obviously that’s dangerous, but there is something eerie about those moments when things resonate, and it’s so warm and so specific and so vernacular that you’re just like, “How?”

Guernica: Your most famous project, How to Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette), involves large-format public signs that capture how trauma and anger are policed.  How did that project come about?

Kameelah Rasheed: I started How To Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette) in 2014, and it’s taken many iterations since then. When I was first thinking about it in 2014, I don’t even remember which black person had been killed, but I was watching a lot of news and noticing the language that was used, not only around what had happened, but the specific syntax and grammar where culpability was distanced from the police officer. “So-and-so was involved in a police-related shooting.” The core of that is “A police officer shot a man,” right? And so I was interested in how grammar and syntax are used to narrate a very specific type of history or account of the moment. But I was also fascinated by the ways in which articles and newscasters were narrating how people should respond to this moment. There was a lot of “You guys should find a better way, a less rowdy way, to express your anger,” and so I thought, “How interesting.” Not only do we get killed but we also get told how we should express affect.

So the project involved this idea that to survive in America we not only have to find a way not to be shot but we have to figure out an etiquette to express our anger. You don’t even have the freedom to express anger in a way that seems natural and deserved because after I shoot your cousin I get to tell you, “Don’t be mad, because that makes me feel uncomfortable.”

I started doing a lot of research on etiquette guides from the 1800s, and a lot of them are directed at women (because men don’t even need to have etiquette). After I had begun the series, I stumbled upon a Freedman’s reader that was given to free black schools as a textbook during the reconstruction era, and that textbook was very much organized around teaching black folks not to hold grudges and to be cordial. It was basically another etiquette guide with religious undertones about forgiveness. I was also reading a lot of Paul Beatty, a novelist and poet who does a lot of satirical work, and I was noticing the threads that run from the days of reconstruction until the present. “We enslaved you; that was messed up; forgive us; oh you don’t? Now we’re mad at you for being mad at us and we’re going to make you feel bad (or crazy) for being mad about something that you have every right to be mad about.”

I knew two things: I make work that is either a compression of history or an expansion of it. For this body of work, everyone was writing these action papers and long essays about things that to me are very, very simple. So I decided to take the route of things that someone coming in without a degree can look at it and say, “That reflects my actual experience.” Specifically, I was thinking about message delivery and signage. When you see a sign on the street, it doesn’t give you fifteen footnotes. It says what it needs to say quickly and keeps it pushing. Sometimes we complicate simple things by using excessive language. By thinking about my work in the register of signage, in the register of accessibility, I’m able to explore what concise and measured language can do that maybe excessive language cannot. Unfortunately there are limitations to this approach. There are people reading my work and thinking, “That is so rude! How can you tell someone that?” I have to explain that I’m not instructing people; I’m sampling language as if I were going to write an etiquette guide.

I’m thinking a lot about the ethics of literacy and legibility and also about issues of accessibility around literacy. The pieces started out at 16” x 20” when they were shown at the beginning of 2015. The curator of the project at the time, Tiona McClodden, decided to hang them from the ceiling to make people look up. Over time, they started to occupy different spaces. First they were in galleries, and then, at MoCADA, they were two feet tall in those windows facing outwards. That was great because it meant that people would have to at least passively engage them as they were walking down the street. I really like the idea of them being large and public. When they were at VOLTA, in 2016, they were these ten-feet-tall posters that took up the entire window. I remember seeing them and almost crying because I loved how loud, how confrontational they were. The work was bigger than me—three or four times my width and twice my height—and there was something about being swallowed or almost consumed by my own work that I really enjoyed.

Guernica: Considering that accessibility is important to you, do you have a particular viewer in mind when you are creating?

Kameelah Rasheed: Someone asked me a similar question after a recent talk at the MET, and my response was that I don’t make work for white people. I do think that the assumption about my work has been that I am trying to educate white people about black history, and I am very clear that that is not my purpose. So much of my work is about not centering whiteness all the time. To me, making work from the point of view of helping white people understand something is unproductive. When I’m making work it’s about all the different colors and permutations of blackness, all the different variants and possibilities and features of blackness. I’m really talking to other black folks like me who may have had parents who taught us things but who went out into the world and were told that we were a coherent mass of homogenous blackness. My work is very much about saying, “We exist in multiple forms.”

Gwendolyn Brooks has this poem where she writes, “I am Black and A Black forever. I am one of the Blacks. We are Here, we are There.” I want my work to be a testament and reminder that we occur in every single continent on this planet, in every corner, in every form of music. The role of my work, then, is to think about how to pull at the seams of this imagined mass of black sameness and say, “No, no, we are much more complex than we are given credit for and here’s how to not only celebrate that but to do the rigorous work of continuing a tradition of existing beyond the limitations that others have imposed on us.” The filmmaker Arthur Jaffa has been quoted as saying: “There is no such thing as a simple black person. There is no way to survive this context and be simple.” That is such a beautiful concept! We’ve survived this context and because we’ve survived this context there is no way we’re all the same; there’s no way you can put us all in this one basket. How do you survive America? What are the opportunities for us to sit and gather and think through these things?

Guernica: What role do you think that archives, whether digital or material, will play in our continued survival in this country?

Kameelah Rasheed: At a very basic level, it feels good and validating to be able to go to a library and see people who look like you. While there is obviously important talk around survival, I am really interested in what it looks like for black folks to thrive going forward, because survival obviously is the baseline. I do think that maintaining archives of blackness is highly important, because when we have kids and when we live under a presidency that maintains that certain people don’t deserve to exist, we need to have a source of information that not only testifies to our existence but to our persistence against all threats. I don’t think that the archive alone is the thing that saves us, but I do think that archives plural, in various forms, are tools for people to look at as a reminder of what’s possible.

In this particular moment, many of us are scared. The question is, what are the archives directing us to do, because it’s not as if we don’t have examples. It’s not as if people have not done this work. It’s not as if people haven’t been living under a particular version of Trump’s America for a long time. I’m often reminded by elders that we’ve already been through some things. So this is not a discontinuity of our history—it is a continuation of things that are and feel familiar. I’m interested in what folks have done in the past to organize covertly to get things done. What have folks done to protect and take care of one another in moments like this? It’s very important to think about the archive as a starting place, a place to go and get lessons, but also as a place that needs to be continuously maintained and taken care of.

Guernica: Do you think that your work is going to change under the new regime, or will it feel like a continuation of what you’ve already been doing?

Kameelah Rasheed: I can’t make any predictions right now but I will just reiterate that my work is very much an open circuit. That means that in addition to just making things and seeing how they relate to one another later, I’m constantly changing. I hope I know many more things by the end of 2017; I hope my understanding of black history is more nuanced.

I’ve been spending the past year and a half to two years on this new project called Mapping the Spirit, which is a documentation of black folks in their various spiritual traditions. What I was thinking about in the beginning of this process is dramatically different from what I’m doing now, and I’m excited about that; I never want to be static. I have core values in terms of doing good work in the world and in terms of who I’m committed to making work for, but if someone comes to me tomorrow and asks, “Why are you making work about fungi and invasive species?” I’m going to be like, “Yo, I have the right to change and to expand the scope of how I make sense of the world.” It’s important not to get into cycles of redundancy and repetition for the purpose of being legible to people who are unaware of you. There is this fear among artists that if we make work that is slightly different than what we’ve made before, people won’t know that it’s our work. But I’ve been making work that looks different all the time and people have managed to figure out that it’s mine. I don’t need to trademark or brand it. I trust in Allah that my work has a spirit and that that spirit gets carried through all that I make.

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