Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Shani Jamila. I live in Brooklyn and work at the Urban Justice Center, where I’m a Managing Director. As an artist and cultural worker, I lead the organization’s work in human rights. Something that has characterized my career is really situating myself at the intersection of art and social change.
This is a great place to do that. You’re here at SPACE working as a part of the Creative Solutions Symposium. What are you working on while you’re here?
I actually brought a ton of different projects because the nature of my work is that there are always several balls in the air you have to keep an eye on. I’ve found it useful to concentrate on one to two of those while I was here because the time has just gone so quickly. One of the things I’m working on is I’m conceptualizing an exhibit about women’s rights that I’ll be curating in the spring of next year. The Human Rights Project [HRP] has been around for fifteen years, and before I came on as Director one of the projects that it was really engaged in was working to have New York City ratify a UN treaty that was initially written in 1979 called CEDAW. The treaty seeks to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. This is a treaty that the vast majority of the world’s countries have signed onto. The ones that haven’t are North and South Sudan, Somalia, Tonga, Palau, Iran, and the United States. We would like to see the U.S. be willing to stand up for the elimination of discrimination against women.
That’d be nice.
Right? That would be nice. There are a number of different ways of going about it. One of the ways I find most effective is that there are a number of different cities or localities that have decided that they are going to internally ratify the principles within their own jurisdictions. San Francisco is one of the major ones, having ratified in 1998. There are others that have ordinances that support CEDAW as well. We’re pushing to have New York be one of those. As part of a multi-pronged effort towards that, we’re going to have an exhibit that’s going to focusing specifically on women’s rights.
Where will the exhibit be?
The Urban Justice Center just moved into brand new offices. As part of the move, we’ve been engaging in a new initiative around the arts. Susan, who co-founded SPACE, curated the first exhibit there. We have a second one that’s coming up now, and I’ll do the third one in March during Women’s History Month. So I’ve been spending some time thinking about what that’s going to look like, who is going to be involved, what the parameters of it will be, the impact I want the exhibit to have… those kinds of questions.
Where’s been your favorite place to work or hang out here?
There are a couple! The green hammock has become one of my hang out spots. It’s a good place to work with your laptop. The gazebo was one of the first places I was initially drawn to. Today I discovered the living room of Kay Hall. I’m trying to sit myself in as many spots as I can over the course of the week, and try them all out.
And is your exhibit the next thing that’s coming up for you?
It’s not the next thing, but it is something I need to be thinking about now. Curating an exhibit is an involved exercise and requires a lot in advance. You have to be well prepared.
We ask everybody we interview this: if you could be reincarnated as any farm animal, what would it be and why?
Does it have to be a farm animal?
Well it could be any kind of farm; take it, as you will.
I passed by the horses recently, and have always found horses to be graceful and beautiful animals. I engage with surrealism in my art, so I would be some sort of afro-futurist unicorn. But that’s not really a farm animal.
You could be a farm unicorn?
I feel like if unicorns were restricted to farms, it would limit their magical capacity. Don’t unicorns fly?
I think so? You could be a magical flying unicorn on a farm in the clouds.
That’s the kind of farm animal I would want to be.
interview by Leigha Sinnott.