Nigerian American artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko talks art, Blackness, and queerness

2 minute read

Despite the draining stress of 2020, Jaamil Kosoko has preserved optimism. The Detroit-born son of a Nigerian father and a mother from Mississippi, Kosoko is a Philly-based artist, working in poetry, photography, movement, performance, and curatorial practice. With a global pandemic and social unrest, Kosoko has had plenty of chances to contemplate the significance and the impact of his work. “I consider myself a time-based collage artist,” Kosoko says. “themes of integration have been really important to me.”

The time is now

Integration can be found in his works, including Chameleon: A Biomythography, White State | Black Mind and #Negrophobia. Both explore the emotions associated with Black bodies, queer theory, and the convergence of his identity. His works have toured internationally, from the US to Canada, Europe, and South Africa, speaking to all sorts of audiences. He was awarded a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage this year, one of a handful of Philly-based artists who received the reward in October.

Kosoko’s art highlights his experience as a Black queer Nigerian American. The bawdiness of #Negrophobia conveys that: Dedicated to his brother and driven by the pain of his violent death, Kosoko coined this piece in 2015 for the American Realness Festival, examining the eroticism and fear associated with Black bodies.

“Aggressively multidisciplinary, the space in which the piece is performed is in many ways an installation piece itself––the audience experiences the work confronted by a shrine to dead Black people and the disemboweled library of writings of Black intellectuals,” his website describes, where you can see more of it and his other works.

“My identity is my art in a lot of ways,” Kosoko says. With the pandemic and protests in solidarity for Black lives, Kosoko remains optimistic, seeing these current events as a time for healing for both his work and his identity. “It’s a complicated proposal trying to make work that feels relevant.”

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

Kosoko will take part in a virtual artist talk at the Paul Robeson Gallery, Radical Reimagining: A Syllabus for Survival on Thursday, December 3, 2020, at 6:30pm. The event is free, but registration is required. Find out more about the lecture online and discover more of Kosoko’s art on his website.

Image Description: A Black man, bald and dressed in black with a black and gray cloth or scarf draped over him, poses for a portrait, a table in front of him and a light brown mosaic background behind him.

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