Starting in Fall 2020, Nsenga Knight: (Social) Projects is a series of live-streamed conversations and studio visits from the artist’s at-home workspace (or dining room table) in Cairo, Egypt. A native New Yorker, Knight moved to Egypt in the Fall of 2016 and due to the COVID-19 pandemic social distancing she was not able to make her annual return home to visit family and friends, or to conduct in-person studio visits.
The latest of Knight’s social practice projects, Nsenga Knight: (Social) Projects develops out of her desire to connect to family, friends and community through a specific medium about critical topics related to the Black community, artistic innovation, and Islamic rituals. In the case of Nsenga Knight: (Social) Projects, they discuss their connections to her art projects from far away places using “social” as an artistic medium for their conversations. On October 8, 2020 Knight had a visit with artist-friend Jamal Cyrus. Both attended UPenn as MFA students of, and mentored by the late artist Terry Adkins, and include references to Islam, Black Muslims, and Black culture in their work.
Table of Contents/ Timestamp Guide:
1:25 – Knight and Cyrus discuss Knight’s Tawaf/ Sa’y text painting series
7:44 – Knight and Cyrus. talk about how she connect’s Malcolm X’s hajj journal and Ali Shariat’s memoir in her Ritual and Revolution series, which Tawaf/ Sa’y is part of.
11:00 – Performace art, formalism, and Islamic rituals.
14:00 – Knight’s personal connection to Shariati’s memoir. Hajjar as a Black woman who the hajj’s rituals commemorate. Knight: “Who is the one who ran”?
17:35 Jamal: “The performative act does does leave a trace on the document… energy and value.”
19:26 – Performance and ritual. Cyrus gives an example of the prayer rug which Muslims visit at least 5 times a day. How does this object become evidence of the rituals performed on it? What about art objects?
21:09 – “Text performing on the page/ artwork on paper”, Knight. The language of performance.
23:53 – Beginning the Tawaf/ Sa’y text painting series. Experimentation & decision making.
25:04 – Translating performance from artist to artwork, to audience.
25:59 – African art, ceremony, performance, libations, offerings changing the nature of a sculpture, sense of time. Jamal references Dogon sculptures in the Menil Collection. Terry Adkins’ artwork and the idea of accumulation and how that can be expressed to the viewer through an artwork – references back to Cyrus’ and Knight’s work. Terry Adkin’s influence.
28:18 – Tawaf/ Sa’y scale, accumulation via the series. Referring back to its origins in a book. “Reading the artwork”.
Artist bios for Nsenga Knight and Jamal Cyrus:
Nsenga Knight (born 1981, Brooklyn, NY) was born in 1981 in Brooklyn, New York. She currently lives and works in Cairo, Egypt and New York. She has exhibited work at the Drawing Center, New York, NY; Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Project Rowhouses, Houston, TX; Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, Pennsylvania; Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY; Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art, Brooklyn, NY; Amistad Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania, New Museum for Contemporary Art, New York, NY; PS1 MoMA among others. Knight is a 2019-2020 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grantee. She has been a recipient of a Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant, a Durham Arts Council Emerging Artist grant, a Southern Constellations Fellowship, the Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant, and Brooklyn Arts Council grants. From 2016-2017 Knight was an Open Sessions artist in resident at the Drawing Center in New York. Knight has held artist residencies at Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Galveston Artist Residency in Galveston, Texas, Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia, Film/Video Arts Center in New York, and was a BCAT/ Rotunda Gallery Multimedia Artist in Resident in Brooklyn, NY. In 2019 she was a BRICworkspace Artist in Residence in Brooklyn, NY.
Jamal Cyrus (born 1973, Houston, TX) received his BFA from the University of Houston in 2004 and his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. Cyrus has won several awards, most recently the Driskell Prize, awarded by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA (2020). He has participated in numerous national and international exhibitions, including Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City Through Mutated Lenses, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (2020); Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH (2018); Direct Message: Art, Language and Power, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL (2019); and The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 – Now, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, IL (2016).
Nsenga Knight x Annah Lee (Director of Artistic Programs, Artspace): IG Live, 2pm EST October 15, 2020
Nsenga Knight x Jamal Cyrus (Artist): Zoom/ Facebook Live, 2pm EST October 8, 2020
Nsenga Knight x Angelica Lindsey Ali (The Village Aunty): IG Live, 5pm EST, September 22nd, 2020
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