Happy Birthday Malcolm X: A Black Muslim Artist Reflects

Nsenga Knight and Samah Gafar at the Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo presenting X Speaks in front of a full audience. A projection of Malcolm X interview in Cairo is behind them.
Nsenga Knight, X Speaks: An Appeal to African Heads of State 2022, Social Practice and Performance, at the Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo.

On this 98th anniversary of Malcolm X’s birthday I’d like to share with you this speech by Dr. Angela Davis about Malcolm X as an international figure, as well as a my personal reflections on his life and legacy.

Nsenga Knight, X Speaks: An Appeal to African Heads of State 2022, Social Practice and Performance, at the Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo.

Malcolm X has always spoken for me. I grew up attending the Brooklyn mosque Malcolm X founded in 1964 and because Malcolm X was the peer and leader to the elders in my community his presence was always felt. As an ancestor and leader who was cultivated by and emerged from the Black Muslim community, he helps me to understand the ways in which my existence as a Black Muslim woman has historically intersected with others all over the world. My 2022 X Speaks: An Appeal to African Heads of State social practice and performance art work allows me to speak and embody his words as a person who upholds his legacy along with a community which owes much of our existence to his leadership.

Malcolm is seen and embraced as a Black international figure, which is something I can relate to as a Black child of Caribbean immigrants who has lived abroad and works internationally as an artist. The Islamic concept of the Ummah – universal brotherhood, is central to how I view humanity, and you can see how Malcolm truly embodied this idea in the latter part of his life; after turning towards Mecca and participating in the collective ritual of Hajj, he felt more deeply united with the rest of humanity. Through my X Speaks project, his words allowed the people of Cairo to connect to their history and place in relation to the African American struggle and understand the ways that Malcolm X perceived their role as Afro Arabs and Muslims in the context of a world-wide freedom struggle. Though a foreigner in Cairo, Malcolm X helped me to feel rooted in this context. He came before me and planted the seeds.

Happy Birthday to Malcolm X! May Allah have mercy on his soul.

Caption: A self-portrait of artist Nsenga Knight in her Queens Museum studio where she is an Artist in Residence and 2022-2024 In Situ Fellow. Artworks on her studio wall include (l-r_ Tawaf/ Sa’y: Mankind, Square One, Tawaf/ Sa’y: Only, Plateau #1, and her Fitra: Amber series

P.S. If you are new to my artwork or want to dig deeper, visit my website or blog here to read and see more. 

P.P.S. If you are an arts administrator, organizer, or educator interested in sharing my artwork with your audience or community, use this inquiry form to request a virtual or in-person studio to share your project with me.


Nsenga Knight, Plateau #2: The Eternal Now 2019, Archival Pigment Print on Hahnemule paper facemounted to none-glare Plexiglass and back-mounted to dibond with aluminum brace and cleat on back, 32 x 40 in.
Available at Dimin Gallery in New York.