Sunday, March 22, 2020

Artists Reach Out: olaiya olayemi

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Olaiya Olayemi


Selfie by Olaiya Olayemi


olaiya olayemi is a blk/trans/femme/womxn/artist/educator/and activist who centers women of the african diaspora in her performative/literary/cinematic/and sonic works of art that explore love/sex/relationships/family/history/memory and radical joy/pleasure. her work is informed by blk/queer/feminist theories/aesthetics/and politics and african indigenous and diasporic spiritual traditions. she has performed at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, JACK, AAA3A, The Wild Project, The Langston Hughes House, Starr Bar, Mayday Space, and Dixon Place. she holds a bachelor of arts in english/creative writing (with a minor in african/black diaspora studies) from depaul university and a master of fine arts in creative writing from emerson college where she was a recipient of the dean's fellowship. she is currently a performance fellow in Queer Art's mentorship program. she currently lives in queens.

Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic? I am currently working on a solo performance piece entitled ado (a remix of my name). I have been able to do some work-in-progress showings of the piece over the last year. Thankfully its progress has not been derailed by the current climate. The great thing about being a writer is that I can work from anywhere and because it's a solo piece, I can rehearse whenever I want. I have great freedom in that way. I also have many other projects that I am writing/thinking/dreaming about. Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice. I have always been a creative. I was involved in the chorus and art club in elementary school, I was in my school play in junior high school , and I participated in my high school's speech team. I took as many writing classes as I could in undergraduate. While in graduate school, I decided that I specifically wanted to focus in on writing for live performance and visual media. By participating in a queer performance workshop at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, I discovered that I was also a performer. In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning? I am practicing radical ways of existing. I am shedding layers, I am gathering the pieces of myself and putting them together bit by bit. I am practicing the very best way to be myself in this world and being a mirror for others to be their very best selves. I am healing/organizing/teaching myself and others through my art. I am envisioning a world where joy and pleasure overflow, a world where liberation and justice are commonplace, a world that we used to live in and will live in again in the future. How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about? I care most about living a pleasurable existence. It is my belief that living in pleasure and joy is the point of life. We are not meant to suffer or sacrifice. In many ways, we've been duped by the system in which we live. But it is up to artists to envision new ways of being. I feel that my art is instructional in that way. I am crafting alternative worlds and universes so that people can imagine new ways of living other than the stilted/stifling/imitative ways that we've been taught. How does your practice function within the world we have now? Life is a performance. We participate in it as players in a game that we did not design. Hopefully my practice pushes us toward more pleasurable futures by (re)imagining a pleasurable past. It is my belief that by investigating the past, we can recreate ourselves and this senseless system.

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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