Black Body Amnesia: jaamil olawale kosoko and Embodied Poetics

By Kayla Thompson, Communities of Color Junior Associate | July 6, 2022

This summer, jaamil olawale kosoko is bringing their recently released book Black Body Amnesia: Poems and Other Speech Acts to the stage with two New York City performances on July 7 at The Museum of Arts and Design and July 9 at the Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance (BAAD!)

jaamil olawale kosoko is a multi-spirited Nigerian American author, performance artist, and curator of Yoruba and Natchez descent originally from Detroit, MI. Outside of their live performance works, they are also a 2022 MacDowell Fellow, 2020 Pew Fellow in the Arts, 2019 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Choreography, 2017-19 Princeton Arts Fellow, 2019 Red Bull Writing Fellow, 2018 NEFA NDP Production Grant recipient, 2017 MAP Fund recipient, and 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Fellow who lectures regularly at Princeton University, Stockholm University of the Arts, and Master Exerce ICI-CCN in Montpellier, France. In Fall 2020, jaamil was also appointed the 3rd annual Alma Hawkins Visiting Chair in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.

Black Body Amnesia: Poems and Other Speech Acts blends poetry, memoir, conversation, and performance theory to enliven a personal archive of visual and verbal offerings. The collection of intertextual performance acts was inspired by Audre Lorde’s concept of biomythography, which kosoko uses to mix personal history, biography, and mythology to confer a complex narrative rooted in a queer, Black, self-defined, and feminist imagination.

The live performance lecture of Black Body Amnesia uses the artist’s unique practice of Socio-Choreological Mapping as a means to explore queer theories of the body and its “hydraulics of grief” and offer critical-creative frames to consider the fluid identities and lifeworlds embedded inside contemporary Black America. Bringing the work into the realm of live performances continues kosoko’s established method of an “embodied poetics,” as their creative practice more generally is one which draws from Black study and queer theories of the body and which weaves together visual performance, lecture, ritual, and spiritual practice. 

In addition to Black Body Amnesia, jaamil’s body of live art works includes ongoing project Chameleon (The Living Installments), which originally premiered virtually in April 2020, Séancers (2017), and the Bessie-nominated #negrophobia (2015). kosoko has also toured internationally, performing and taking their art and poetics global, and appeared in several major festivals including Tanz im August (Berlin), Moving in November (Finland), Within Practice (Sweden), TakeMeSomewhere (UK), Brighton Festival (UK), Oslo Teaterfestival (Norway), and Zürich MOVES! (Switzerland).

Most recently, jaamil curated Portal For(e) the Ephemeral Passage (an interdisciplinary exhibition that amplifies Black feminist voices in contemporary art and performance) at the Wexner Center for the Arts, and is hosting an Instagram Live series titled “Syllabus for Black Love,” which will feature artists and entrepreneurs from around the globe. “Syllabus for Black Love” was conceptualized several years ago, jaamil shared, saying that “During the pandemic it became clear that there was a lovelessness operating at the heart of the American project, but also inside of me.” The series will explore that lovelessness that jaamil identified, and dig deeper into the groundswell of feelings that arose, amongst many people, during the onset of the pandemic.

In addition to performance work, jaamil also offers creative coaching and consultation as well as the following workshops:

  • Transgressive Body Workshop
  • Radical Reimaginings and Other Self-Love Practices
  • Moving Between Worlds

Drawing on and inspired by Black feminist theories and theorists, jaamil’s work intensely investigates and engages with history and layered histories. Reflecting on how the notion of history pervades their poetics and performances, jaamil noted that history is “always at the root of [their] work as a researcher, as a social anthropologist, as an ethnographer,” and that their investigation “is around how we can unearth certain erased, hidden histories that need to be risen and shared, so as to not replicate them.” 

Perhaps most importantly though, in regards to their work and their goals for their art, jaamil shared how they understand their own artistry and impact: “As an artist, if I am really doing my work, I am in a sort of critical study and critical investigation of what it means to be a contemporary black body in this world. I’m doing my best to share the complexities and abundance and beauty of that existence.” Overall, jaamil’s art works to reveal and share those complexities as to not replicated the long history of erasing, hiding, and repressing Black and Black queer histories. 

jaamil’s work takes care to not only illuminate and expand upon the complexities, abundance, and beauty of the Black body and Black existence, but also the complexities, abundance, and beauty of the Black queer body and Black queer existence. jaamil’s work is a testament to the imagination, but also to the potential of the imagination to powerfully procure and amplify visibility for marginalized existences and uncover their brilliant and rich history. Work that energetically images and articulates the Black queer body, experience, and existence is incredibly important to the contemporary experience of being Black and queer; through their work, jaamil accelerates the visibility and acceptance of Black LGBTQ+ artists, individuals, and experiences in a world that too often devalues them. 

In jaamil’s own words, “That’s what’s so incredible about queer practice and possibility… we exist so often in multitudes.” jaamil’s work unearths and shares those multitudes, and shares the beautiful possibility of being Black and queer and embodying space in our world. 

Be sure to catch one of jaamil’s upcoming summer and fall performances listed below:

July 7: Black Body Amnesia @ The Museum of Arts and Design

July 9: Black Body Amnesia @ BAAD! (Bronx Academy of Arts & Design)

July 11-15: Moving Between Worlds @ Movement Research

August 21-27: Black Body Amnesia @ Institute for Contemporary Art

September 8-14: “Syllabus for Black Love | the hold” @ Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Black Body Amnesia will also tour across Switzerland this fall, with further details and information forthcoming.

To keep up with jaamil olawale kosoko, follow them on Instagram at @jaamil_means_beauty, on Twitter at @jaamilkosoko, peruse their Linktree, and visit their website to learn more.