Posted on January 28, 2015, 12:54 am
6 mins


The collective HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? (YAMS for short), was central to a major stir at the Whitney Biennial last year. It’s impossible to succinctly relate all the controversy around it to those who were not following it, but to put it briefly: To anyone with a lick of sense and awareness, the Whitney came off looking REALLY bad…clueless, privileged, racist and incapable of self-reflection or analysis.

These are not qualities we want to admit to in our cultural institutions, and so quite predictably there was a lot of condescension toward YAMS from the establishment, even going so far as to imply that the collective’s eventual withdrawal from the Biennial was a race-baiting publicity stunt and that they were attempting to censor the work of other artists by questioning its content, notably (but not exclusively) the work of Joe Scanlan.

All of this really just served to prove YAMS’ point: That this exclusionary racism is pervasive and systemic, and the Whitney was not just complicit, but actively using their clout to reify this racism. For a lucid interview with several members discussing the situation, check out their interview with ArtNet from last year.

Race is an exceedingly complex issue, and to unravel the complications of it requires a combination of directness and delicacy that few can pull off individually, so the collective force of groups like YAMS is absolutely vital. We are very lucky that The New Foundation Seattle has seen the importance of this and is presenting lectures, installations and performances from members of YAMS in the early part of 2015.

From The New Foundation Seattle:

Over the next 3 months, the Foundation will bring Dachi Da’Chea Dreaa, Dawn Lundy Martin, Greg Tate, Kelsey McJunkins, Kobie Maitland, Kyp Malone, Manchildblack, Mitch McEwen, Monstah Black, Nana Adusei-Poku, Pozsi Tecnikolor, Richie Adomako, Sienna Shields, and Takiaya Reed to the Northwest to join Seattle-based HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? collective member Christa Bell and create new work, screen recent work, participate in exhibitions and lectures, and produce a radical dance-in.

At TNFS’s Pioneer Square space (312 2nd Avenue S), a 34-part film poem, Good Stock on the Dimension Floor: An Opera, is being screened through March 28. (The space is open Thursday through Saturday, 11 AM to 6 PM.) The central question posed is: “What happens to the black body when it is haunted by ‘a blackness,’ outside of it?”

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The libretto written by poet Dawn Lundy Martin is performed by collective members and not presented in linear fashion, but rather is spoken, chanted, sung and screamed from the various screens, shot on location in and around New York City, Alaska, Washington D.C., California, Florida, Berlin, and Paris. All of this reflects the experience of diaspora and racial strife over centuries around the globe.

In February, the Jacob Lawrence Gallery will present an exhibition titled Post-Speculation/wayblackmachine. Opening on the evening of February 3, it will run through the end of the month. The collaborative, internet-inspired installation by YAMS draws from memes, social media and media footage documenting reactions and protests around Ferguson, state violence and black embodiment.

Tomorrow night (January 28), Town Hall will host a screening and discussion titled Race, Art, and Being Black. YAMS mentor Greg Tate will introduce the film and moderate a panel of collective members Christa Bell, Dawn Lundy Martin, Nana Adusei-Poku and Sienna Shields. It is the first of many live events in the coming weeks and is bound to be as challenging as it is vital. Check out a more complete list of events below.


Screening and Discussion: Race, Art, and Being Black

When: Wednesday, January 28, 7 PM to 9 PM

Where: Town Hall (1119 8th Avenue)

Admission: $5.00. Buy tickets online.



When: February 4 – 28. Opening reception February 3, 5 PM to 8 PM.

Where: Jacob Lawrence Gallery (Art Building, Room 132 Stevens Way)

Nebula Project: Visiting Artist Lecture by Mitch Ewen

When: February 12, 7 PM

Where: Henry Art Gallery Auditorium (4100 15th Ave NE)

Admission: Free


Last Night A DJ Gave Me Life: DJ as Revolutionary, Dance as a tool of liberation.

When: February 7, 9pm

Where: On the Boards (100 West Roy St)

Featuring The Illustrious Blacks, Manchildblack and Monstah Black, and special guest Ashley
Brockington. Event co-conceptualized with Christa Bell. “Music, politics, healing: members of the HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? collective host a dance-in with DJs and hosts acting as guides in a physical journey through sound. Current media events will serve as inspiration to investigate tension and release, shed layers of injustice, and instigate healing.” Read more online.

Still image from HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?s Good Stock on the Dimension Floor: An Opera, 2014. Video, color, sound; 1:04053. Courtesy of the artists.

Still image from HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?s Good Stock on the Dimension Floor: An Opera, 2014. Video, color, sound; 1:04053. Courtesy of the artists.

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.