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Talking to Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: A Cultural Democracy in the Performing Arts Interview

The Brooklyn Commune’s Cultural Democracy and Representation Team, led by Kyoung H. Park, has designed an artist survey to invite artists to share their experiences working in the field in order to open up public discussions regarding diversity and inclusion in the performing arts. Over the course of the next few months, we will highlight interviews with artists who are in conversation with the Brooklyn Commune’s Cultural Democracy and Representation Team, and we invite members of our community to help us gather more information by completing our survey here. Our team will synthesize our findings and share these interviews and our findings online.

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko's "Revenge of The New Negro." Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s “Revenge of The New Negro.” Photo courtesy of the artist.

1. How do you identify yourself? How does your identity influence or inform your work?

I am always in a process of self-examination; artistically, emotionally, professionally, economically, socio-politically, etc. To some degree, everything I create is an examination of identity always leading me into knew performative  explorations because identity, I believe, is fluid.

2. Do you face challenges in the field based on the way you identify yourself?

I face multiple challenges at any given aspect of my creative career, however, I’m reluctant to place the bias that I experience on how I self-identify.  I think it has more to do with how others may want to identify me, without having any previous discussion or witnessing of my work. While, I’ve been making work professionally for nearly 9 years, I’m still relatively new to NYC, so I don’t expect NYC-based artistic directors and curators to be extremely interested in my work at this point.

3. Where do you (or can you) locate representations of your culture [community] within contemporary performance?

This is a great question.  One that I’ve been asking of myself quite a bit. There is a lack of Black experimentation on stage because there is a lack of Black curators and producers. So I work in multiple arenas, to confuse the traditional approach to ways in which a project can be supported and presented. So I work as a producer, a curator, an artist, a poet. I wear many hats.

Curatorially, I’m drawn to questions of otherness, oddity, eroticism, diversity.  These questions lead me to examine issues on various platforms. I may choose to write a scholastic paper or a photo essay, or curate a platform, or create something myself to explore a certain topic. I don’t think all my ideas need or should be translated into live performance.

I typically look for representations of my culture in visual art, literature, and film.  I must admit that it is hard to find Black male experimentalists and visual performance artists showcasing their work consistently in NYC and other nearby regions.  There are plenty of Black dance companies. But I don’t self-identify in that lineage.  My work situates itself in visual performance with artists like Lawrence Graham Brown, Ish Houston Jones, Sherman Fleming, Niegel Smith, Clifford Owens, etc.  All of these artists disrupt stereotypical notions of Black Male Representation on Stage and in the Public Realm.  I try to have my ear close to the ground.  I follow the programming at The Studio Museum and The Schomburg Center.

4. Are there moments in which your cultural identity [community] is misrepresented or underrepresented, and how do you address this?

Yes, I do notice under representation and distribution for artists working in a similar way as myself, thus I will be curating a platform at Danspace Project entitled Black Male Revisited: Experimental Representations through the Ephemeral Form in Feb. 2014.  I also recently wrote an essay entitled Endangered Bodies: Locating the Black Male Presence in Contemporary Performance which I plan to present as an interactive performance lecture in Montreal in April 2014.

5. Have you been a working artist in another culture [community]? Has this experience exposed something about current practices that we can learn from?

I’ve lived and made work in DC and Philly. I also have close ties to Pittsburgh and will be showing in Miami during Art Basel ’13. I show more often outside of NYC. This only strengthens my work. I like the anonymity that is projected from my body in situations where folks don’t know me personally. Thus I co-direct a performance company based in Philly called anonymous bodies || art collective.

6. Describe an ideal situation in which your work is presented. Is there anything you’d like your audience to know about you before viewing your work?

I showed in DC last year at Dance Place. I had a great time there. Holly Bass and I marketed the show ourselves and did a kickass job.  We sold out both performances.  The production values were high.  The tech team was very nice. I was able to expose my work to a new audience. I enjoy this experience. I like meeting new people.

Originally from Detroit, MI, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko is a Nigerian American curator, producer, poet, choreographer, and performance artist currently based in New York City. He is a 2012 Live Arts Brewery Fellow as a part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, a 2011 Fellow as a part of the DeVos Institute of Art Management at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and an inaugural graduate member of the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP) at Wesleyan University.

His work in performance is rooted in a creative mission to push history forward through writing and socio-political art advocacy. Kosoko’s work in live performance has received support from The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through Dance Advance, The Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative, The Joyce Theater Foundation, and The Philadelphia Cultural Fund. His solo performance work entitled other.explicit.body. premiered at Harlem Stage in April 2012 and is currently touring nationally. As a performer, Kosoko has created original roles in the performance works of Nick Cave, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Keely Garfield Dance, Miguel Gutierrez and The Powerful People, Headlong Dance Theater among others. Kosoko’s poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Poems Against War, The Dunes Review, and Silo, among other publications. In 2011, Kosoko published Notes on an Urban Kill-Floor: Poems for Detroit (Old City Publishing). He is a contributing correspondent for Dance Journal (PHL), the Broad Street Review (PHL), and Critical Correspondence (NYC). He has served on numerous curatorial and funding panels including the National Endowment for the Arts, MAP Fund, Movement Research at Judson Church, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, the Baker Artists Awards, among others.


About kyounghpark

Artistic Director, Pacific Beat Collective



  1. Pingback: Art Basel Miami 2013: Jaamil Olawale Kosoko | Nerdy Me Cool You - December 7, 2013

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