Exploring race relations through performance art

Exploring race relations through performance

Conceptual artist and African-American activist damali ayo will give a presentation for the Washington University Assembly Series at 11 a.m. Wednesday, February 15 in Graham Chapel. The event, co-sponsored by Mortarboard and the Social Justice Center, is a multimedia presentation that interacts directly with the audience to address issues of racial injustice.

Ayo’s presentation is a searing commentary on the state of race relations in America today, built upon the themes she presents in her satirical book, How to Rent a Negro. In the book, she takes the concept of African-Americans as a commodity to extremes to make the point that American society still objectifies Blacks.

“My work has a relentless desire to engage the audience and generate an authentic experience for our society,” ayo says. “I explore social and political issues that permeate our culture and my everyday experience. I strive to create a shift in a viewer’s perspective on our world and their position within it.”

Controversial cultural and racial issues form the foundation of ayo’s dialogue-driven art. She uses various forms of performance, such as panhandling for slavery reparations on the streets of America’s major cities, to make people reevaluate their preconceptions.

“My work leaves my audience pondering discomfort, confusion, anger, joy, sadness, emotions of all kinds. I am an honest manipulator, presenting contradictions and demanding response,” says ayo.

In recent years, ayo’s art has generated considerable attention, with solo and group exhibitions around the country, including Chicago, New York, Portland and also in Spain. Ayo graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American civilization and public policy/American institutions from Brown University, and is currently an M.F.A. candidate in studio art from Portland State University.

For more information, call (314) 935-4620 or visit the Assembly Series Web page (http://assemblyseries.wustl.edu).