Traveling To Guyana With My Mother

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on this blog. I hope you missed reading it as much as I have missed posting on here. I’m always happy to stay connected with you and I pray we continue to add value to one other and our communities. Last week was so hectic and went by so quickly, but lemme catch you up.

l-r: Nsenga Knight with Lindsey Berfond (Queens Museum curator) and In Situ Fellows Cameron Granger, Catalina Schliebener Muñoz on a stroll through Little Egypt in Queens, NY

As part of my 2-year In Situ Fellowship and residency at Queens Museum I’ve been developing a proposal for my solo exhibition at the museum which is happening in Spring 2024 inshaAllah. I initially thought that my work and research would focus on colonialism and art, and the self-representation of African nations in the World’s Fair coming out of colonialism in the 1960s. I’m still interested in that idea but my work focus has shifted to something more personal, which is normal after doing research and experimenting with different ways to engage with all the materials in the archives and the ideas I have.

Pic of Nsenga Knight’s parents – Madonna and Yusuf Knight circa 1970 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. They had both recently immigrated to the USA from Trinidad and Guyana respectively and met at Erasmus High school.

Right now I’m more inclined to bring things a little closer to home. I’ve mentioned to you in previous newsletters that I will be presenting at an international conference on Muslims in the Caribbean next month in Guyana. My family is from the Caribbean – Trinidad and Guyana, so I have turned to them to create an auto-ethnographic presentation and body of writing that focuses on my family in the context of examining the reciprocal influence of Black freedom movements on Afro-Caribbean Muslims. I’m not an academic but I often do a lot of research as part of my artistic process, and the art I create provides new knowledge and resources which many academics rely on in their classrooms to teach about under-represented topics such as African American Muslims, Muslim women, and Black Muslim artists.

Still from recent oral history interview with my mother – Madonna Knight at her home in NJ. 

For the most part, I’m doing an oral history of every Muslim in my family (both maternal and paternal). For further context, I may even interview a few other family members. This is my normal point of departure as an artist – the personal. My research on ideas and issues that come up in these conversations helps me situate myself, family, and community into a larger context. It even opens up a place for me to contribute to different spaces outside of the field of art, like in the academic sphere with this upcoming talk in Guyana and an upcoming book project on Malcolm X, which I’m contributing to with Columbia University. I have different resources available on my website, including full artwork descriptions you can download to learn about my different projects and to glimpse a bit of the research that goes into each one of them.

I’m still developing my presentation on Muslims in the Caribbean and I’ll send pics while I’m in Guyana. I’m excited and thankful for this opportunity since I’ll get to visit Guyana for the first time, and some of my family members will come along as well. I’m especially excited for my mom, who will be returning to Guyana for the first time since she was 12 years old! Alhamdullilah for the doors Allah opens up to those of us who work hard and have faith in his plan. Being an artist is unconventional for many people, but for me it holds everything I ever wanted to do in life. Through my work I’m striving to bring us closer to the highest versions of ourselves and our Creator, our collective history, and to each other. 

Nsenga Knight and her mother Madonna Knight.

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