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TRII at AWP! Poets Writing Whiteness

Poets Writing Whiteness
Presented by The Racial Imaginary Institute

Portland Ballroom 252, Oregon Convention Center, Level 2
Friday, March 29, 2019
12:00 pm to 1:15 pm

Audio (courtesy of Rachel Zucker): PoetsWritingWhitenessPanel

This panel presents four poets whose work has explicitly confronted whiteness, moderated by The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII) member Monica Youn. TRII brings together artists and thinkers to mark, challenge, and beset white dominance, to make visible what has been presented as inevitable so that we can transform our imaginings of race. We hope to catalyze other writers and artists to reimagine our racial pathologies, to scrutinize not only obvious bigotry but also our own complicity.

Moderator: Monica Youn’s book Blackacre won the William Carlos Williams Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and Kingsley Tufts Award and longlisted for the National Book Award. Her previous book Ignatz was a finalist for the National Book Award. She teaches at Princeton.

Sharon Olds is most recently the author of Odes, and Stag’s Leap, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the T.S Eliot Prize (UK). She teaches in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at New York University.

Shane McCrae is the author of, most recently, In the Language of My Captor, winner of the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry, and The Gilded Auction Block, and has received a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer’s Award, and an NEA fellowship. He teaches at Columbia University in New York.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico is the author of The Verging Cities, and the forthcoming Lima :: Limón. A professor of literature at Bennington College, she has won awards and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, PEN America, and CantoMundo.

Joy Katz is the author of three poetry books and many essays. Her new manuscript, White: An Abstract, documents every minute of whiteness in her life. She collaborates on social practice art, including, recently, OverHear/OverHere, live music for shift workers. She lives and teaches in Pittsburgh.

Alexandra Bell, Doreen St. Felix, and Claudia Rankine in Conversation at The Brooklyn Museum


Brooklyn Talks

Thursday, July 19, 2018

7–9 pm

Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, 3rd Floor

Claudia Rankine examines the often-troubled manifestations of the racial imaginary in American poetry and explores counternarrative tactics of contemporary poets and artists. Her presentation is followed by a conversation with multidisciplinary artist Alexandra Bell, best known for her public art series Counternarratives, and Doreen St. Félix, a New Yorker staff writer who writes at the intersection between culture and media, and has written incisively on Counternarratives. Bell uses the term “counternarratives” to describe her work, which investigates how images and text work together to affect the cultural imagination and narratives around race.

Tickets are $25 and include Museum admission. Members receive a 10% discount.

To request accommodations such as assistive listening devices, ASL interpretation, and open captioning, email us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

The Kitchen and The Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness


June 27-August 3
Gallery hours: Monday – Friday, 11am – 6pm
FREE and open to the public

The Kitchen,
512 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

The exhibition portion of On Whiteness aims to take advantage of art’s powerful ability to reframe dominant ways of seeing, especially with regard to philosopher Sara Ahmed’s postulation of whiteness as a “habit,” whose power to form and sustain specific social behaviors and institutions resides in its being taken entirely for granted. As Ahmed proposes: “Whiteness is what bodies do, where the body takes shape of the action…. spaces are oriented ‘around’ whiteness, insofar as whiteness is not seen.” By disorienting the particularly habituated space of the white cube gallery, the work in this exhibition questions, marks, and checks whiteness, challenging its dominance as it operates through default positions in cultural behavior.

Artists include: Josh BegleyPaul ChanMel ChinJa’Tovia GaryKen Gonzales-DayKate GreenstreetTitus KapharBaseera KhanCharlotte LagardeSeung-Min LeeGlenn LigonMores McWreathSandeep MukherjeeNative Art Department InternationalToyin Ojih OdutolaTim Rollins and K.O.S.Cindy ShermanRodrigo Valenzuela, and Anicka Yi.



June 30, 10am–6pm

A day-long symposium featuring conversation on the diagnostics of whiteness, with keynote addresses by Linda AlcoffNell Painter, and Patricia Williams; presentations including Vijay Iyer and Claudia Rankine and panelists including Lauren Berlant, Sadhana Bery, Daniel Borzutsky, Rizvana Bradley, Jane Caflish, Jeff Chang, Chris Chen, Aruna D’Souza, Lori Gruen, Saidiya Hartman, Sarah Lewis, and Doreen St. Felix.

This event has reached capacity, but can be livestreamed here:



Vijay Iyer 
June 25–29

A series of performances examining what Iyer terms the “affective archeology” of systemic racism, combining audio interviews he has conducted with artists of color with live performance with a host of collaborators across open rehearsals and evening performances.

Jackie Sibblies Drury
July 9–13

Jackie Sibblies Drury will use her time in the space to begin a new project, experimenting with text and developing a movement vocabulary in collaboration with other artists that explores how physical comedy and violence are written onto and interact with the black body. She will open her process to the public through in-process showings and casual feedback sessions.

Dark Noise Collective
July 16–20

Dark Noise Collective will use their time together as a retreat, focusing on internal writing workshops, artist talks, and discussions around race and theways that their work disrupts white dominance. They will also host a public performance at The Kitchen, consisting of poems that have been generated during the residency and other work. Tickets available July 9 at 2pm.



Marguerite Hemmings
July 2, 7pm

Marguerite Hemmings looks at relationships that are in need of examining, i.e. audience-performer; institution-artist; whiteness-everything else? Audience members will be asked to join the circle and participate in guided and unguided improv exercises with sound and movement facilitators.

Seung-Min Lee
July 23, 8pm

Seung-Min Lee’s performance takes on the conflicted symbolic power of milk; as the once-booming dairy industry in New York state suffers with the steady decline of milk consumption, a new generation of Neo-Nazis takes pride in lactose tolerance, instrumentalizing the optical purity of milk as a emblem of white supremacy.

Angie Pittman
July 27, 7pm

Choreographer Angie Pittman will perform two pieces, Sequined Kisses and Vaseline Love, constructed as a diptych to propose a journey towards what Donnell Alexander calls “finding the essential soul while being essentially lost.”



Cultural institutions, collectives, individuals, arts spaces, and other curatorial venues have responded to The Racial ImaginaryInstitute’s invitation to invest in examining the racial imaginary in their programming during the months of June and July 2018. Participants include 47 Canal, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Drawing Center, Helena Anrather Gallery, theMuseum of Chinese in America, New Museum, Jack Shainman Gallery, Recess, Studio Museum in Harlem, Queens Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Click here for a full schedule of happenings.

Artists in the exhibition include Josh BegleyPaul ChanMel ChinJa’Tovia GaryKen Gonzales-DayKate Greenstreet, Titus KapharBaseera Khan, Charlotte Lagarde, Seung-Min LeeGlenn LigonMores McWreathSandeep Mukherjee, Native Art Department International, Toyin Ojih OdutolaTim Rollins and K.O.S.Cindy ShermanRodrigo Valenzuela, and Anicka Yi.


This exhibition is presented as part of The Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness. For more information about the exhibition and other programs please see The Kitchen’s website.

The Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness is made possible with support from the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, Poetry Foundation, Valerie Dillon & Daniel R Lewis, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Leslie Fritz, and OSMOS; annual grants from Howard Gilman Foundation, Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, and Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and in part by public funds from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Special thanks to The Korein Foundation and MacDowell Colony.


The 2018 TRII Biennial


The members of The Racial Imaginary Institute are extending an invitation to cultural institutions, collectives, individuals, arts spaces, and other curatorial venues to invest in examining the racial imaginary in their programming during the months of June and July 2018, in conjunction with our collaborative exhibition On Whiteness at The Kitchen.

Sarah Ahmed, in her essay “The Phenomenology of Whiteness,” asks us to consider “‘institutions’ as orientation devices, which take the shape of ‘what’ resides within them.” For Ahmed, “spaces are orientated ‘around’ whiteness, insofar as whiteness is not seen . . . It is important that we do not reify institutions, by presuming they are simply given and that they decide what we do. Rather, institutions become given, as an effect of the repetition of decisions made over time, which shapes the surface of institutional spaces.” (SA:157)

Because institutions have the power to create social meaning, TRII has invited cultural institutions across the country  to extend their programming and outreach towards a deliberate consideration of race, specifically by inviting and supporting arts and programming that question, mark, and check whiteness. Our hope is that this invitation will create new habits and modes of inquiry for participating institutions, as well as the audiences that visit them. Let’s be a community, a network, a world, in which what we’ve inherited is not what we perpetuate.

If your collective, venue, or organization wishes to get involved with the 2018 TRII Biennial, please contact email hidden; JavaScript is required with a short proposal.


Full Schedule:


Recess Assembly: Xaviera Simmons
May 10 – July 28
FREE and open to the public, Thursday – Saturday // 12p – 6p
Culminating Reception: Thursday June 28, 5-7p; program at 6p

370 Schermerhorn Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Xaviera Simmons’ project, titled The burden of deconstructing whiteness and systematic oppression should no longer fall squarely on the shoulders of black and brown bodies. This weight and its solutions have to be carried by and wrestled within the bodies of those who no longer desire to continue to perpetuate and benefit from them, has transformed Assembly’s public storefront into a documentary filmmaking studio and site for research, interviews, and conversation with the goal of decentering of whiteness.

More information here.


47 Canal: The White Noise Mixtape
June 27 – August 3
Gallery Hours Wednesday – Sunday // 11a – 6p

291 Grand St
New York, NY 10002

An edition of 45 reclaimed 60 minute cassette tapes featuring the works of writers, musicians, sound artists, and comedians available for listening and purchase at 47 Canal, as well as streaming online. Organized by Tenaya Izu and Henry Murphy.

More information here.


Jack Shainman Gallery: Orientation
June 27 – August 3
Opening Reception: Thursday, June 28th, 6-8pm
FREE and open to the public, Tuesday – Saturday // 10a – 6p

513 West 20th St
New York, NY 10011

An exhibition in conjunction with the biennial building on Sarah Ahmed’s claim of Whiteness as an orientation, featuring work from James Lee Byars, Sam Durant, Gunther Förg, Anton Kannemeyer, Byron Kim, Barry Le Va, Sol Le Witt, Kerry James Marshall, Meleko Mokgosi, Yasumasa Morimura, Emily Nelms Perez, Jackie Nickerson, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Claudette Schreuders, Richard Serra, Becky Suss, Carrie Mae Weems, and Hank Willis Thomas.


The Drawing Center: Performance by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
In conjunction with Terry Winters: Facts and Fictions
Tuesday, July 10
Free with RSVP

35 Wooster St
New York, NY 10013

The Drawing Center will host a performance by the artist Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe in which Lowe will respond to Winters’s work. This event will take place in conjunction with the biennial programming of the Racial Imaginary Institute, an organization formed to activate public conversations about race.

More information here.


The Studio Museum in Harlem: In Conversation: (De)constructing Images of Color
Wednesday, July 11
FREE and open to the public

Hosted at The Greene Space
44 Charlton St
New York, NY

In Conversation: (De)constructing Images of Color brings together an interdisciplinary group of artists for an exploration of the connections among race, color theory, and the creation of decolonized oral histories. Co-hosted by the Studio Museum in Harlem and WNYC, the panel takes Sara Ahmed’s “The Phenomenology of Whiteness” as a point of departure for challenging whiteness as inheritance and driving force of history. Artists Joiri Minaya and Genevieve Gaignard will be joined in conversation by moderator and curator Legacy Russell and WNYC host Rebecca Carroll.

More information here.


Brooklyn Academy of Music: BAMcinematék On Whiteness film series
July 11 to July 19
Tickets and full schedule here.

30 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Film series exploring how whiteness has been deliberately and subconsciously constructed, ignored, and challenged in the history of American film. Films include: Taxi Driver (1976), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), White Chicks (2004), Gran Torino (2008), The Virgin Suicides (1999), Get Out (2017) and many more.


Queens Museum: Gallery Talk with Claudia Rankine
In conjunction with Mel Chin: All Over the Place
Saturday, July 14
FREE and open to the Public

New York City Building
Queens, NY 11368

Join us for the third of four Second Saturdays, a new series of dynamic public programs presented to delve deeper into the themes, techniques, and aesthetics of Queens Museum’s temporary exhibitions. We will be kicking the series off with Mel Chin: All Over the Place on April 14, June 9, July 14, and August 11. Each afternoon will feature events produced in conversation with All Over the Place’s four thematic sections at the Queens Museum.

More information here.


Helena Anrather: Whiteness Reading Group
Sunday, July 15
FREE with registration

28 Elizabeth St, Third Floor
New York, NY 10013

Series of reading groups with the AN/OTHER curatorial collective exploring the texts informing the On Whiteness exhibition, focusing on Sara Ahmed’s “The Phenmenology of Whiteness,” and Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey’s The Undercommons.


The Whitney Museum of American Art:
ORIENTATIONS: Perceiving Whiteness in Art and Institutions
Tuesday, July 17
Free with registration

99 Gansevoort St
New York, NY 10014

Taking philosopher Sara Ahmed’s foundational text, “A Phenomenology of Whiteness” as a starting point, this workshop invites participants to develop a vocabulary for analyzing whiteness through close readings of works of art in the Whitney’s collection.

More information here.

Brooklyn Museum: Brooklyn Talks: Claudia Rankine with Alexandra Bell
Thursday, July 19
Tickets are $25 and include Museum admission.

200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Claudia Rankine examines the often-troubled manifestations of the racial imaginary in American poetry and explores counternarrative tactics of contemporary poets and artists. Her presentation is followed by a conversation with multidisciplinary artist Alexandra Bell, best known for her public art series Counternarratives, and Doreen St. Félix, a New Yorker staff writer who writes at the intersection between culture and media, and has written incisively on Counternarratives. Bell uses the term “counternarratives” to describe her work, which investigates how images and text work together to affect the cultural imagination and narratives around race.

More information here.


The New Museum: Post-Freedom Cookout
Sunday, July 22,
4 – 6pm
$15 public / $10 members

235 Bowery
New York, NY 10002

Yardy, a platform founded by DeVonn Francis, engages with food production within queer and migrant communities. A play on the Jamaican Patois word “yaadie”—a term that Jamaican locals and expats alike use to describe themselves and their group of friends—Yardy was founded on the premise that education and cultural support for food production are vital anchors for community building, justice work, and healing within marginalized communities. Fostering conviviality and intergenerational dialogue over gatherings with food, Yardy’s programs center on sisterhooding, matrilineal inheritance, and sustenance for Afro-diasporic people.

As part of the Racial Imaginary Institute’s 2018 Biennial programming, Yardy presents a workshop on the histories and futures of hybrid platforms that forge space for black cultural production in New York City. The workshop will consider the history of tenant organizing in the city, focusing particularly on how food culture spearheaded by people of color intersects with vibrant cookouts, nightlife, and visioning for a new generation of urban farmers and community gardeners. With a nod to the calypso, funk, soul, and reggae records spun at block parties and basement speakeasies in East Flatbush in the 1970s and ’80s, the workshop will pay homage to Caribbean roots while looking to the gatherings that keep this legacy alive today.

More information here.


The Museum of Chinese in America: Curators in Conversation: AN/OTHER NY
Thursday, August 2
FREE and open to the public

215 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013

Members of the Asian/Asian American artist group AN/OTHER NY will discuss their founding history and lead breakout conversations in an exercise of what Sara Ahmed in “The Phenomenology of Whiteness” calls “room-making”—the creation of a space in which to feel comfortable as a collective body. Using their own bodies as orientation devices, participants will begin by sharing personal narratives of diaspora. Conversations will be shaped around groups of 5-6 people to give space to each individual story. AN/OTHER NY members will mediate with prompts as needed; please bring any topics relating to race, space, and identity you have been eager to discuss. Snacks and beverages will be provided and conversations will be casual. Formed in 2015, AN/OTHER NY is a collective of artists, writers, and curators that advocate for Asians and Asian Americans in the arts.


Image courtesy Ken Gonzalez-Day.



George Emilio Sanchez: BANG, BANG, GUN AMOK (a 24-hour performance filibuster)

December 8-9; 6pm
Abrons Arts Center
Underground Theater
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street)
New York, NY 10002

Ticket information here.

We at The Racial Imaginary Institute wanted to promote this important 24-hr performance piece by artist and performer George Emilio Sanchez, which is happening at the Abrons Arts Center on December 8th and 9th. It is a performance “filibuster,” calling attention to and challenging our nation’s refusal to implement gun control. The event will focus on gun violence and how we live in, and enable, a gun culture in the United States.  The 24 hours will cover, address, and single out the various elements and causes of gun violence in today’s society.  Part of the performance will be dedicated to calling out all 538 elected members of Congress and their position on gun reform.  The entire event will be live streamed.

Sources in Conversation, September

Alexandra Bell, from “Counternarratives”

Here are some links to organizations, essays, projects, resources, and texts that we see as vital to our work, that we celebrate and find useful. We aim to compile one of these lists each month. If you believe you or your collective or organization should be a part of our monthly list, please feel free to contact us.

  1. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness,” by Sara Ahmed
  2. The Equal Justice Initiative
  3. “The Whiteness Project,” by Whitney Dow
  4. This video project by Mores McWreath
  5. “Strong and Wrong: On Ignorance and Modes of White Spectatorship in Dance Criticism,” by Charmian Wells
  6. “Making America White Again,” by Toni Morrison
  7. Appraising Newness: Whiteness, Neoliberalism, and the Building of the Archive for
    New Poetry,” by Eunsong Kim
  8. “Good Old Boys,” Ashley Sparks
  9. “Big Man,” by Lauren Berlant
  10. The artwork of David Leggett
  11. The artwork of Ti Rock Moore
  12. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” by Hortense J. Spillers
  13. “All the Things You Could be by Now, If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother,” by Hortense J. Spillers
  14. Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism, by Elizabeth Povinelli
  15. “What Do White People Want?: Interest, Desire, and Affect in Late Liberalism,” by Elizabeth Povinelli
  16. “Karrabing: An Indigenous Otherwise in the Late Liberal Australian Geontology” by Elizabeth Povinelli

Artist and the Archive

Artist and the Archive: Deconstructing Racial Imagination at the Schomburg


Founded by poet and McArthur Fellow Claudia Rankine, The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII) is an interdisciplinary cultural laboratory of writers, activists, scholars, and artists, dedicated to the work of engaging the concept of the racial imagination, specifically critiquing the costs and means by which whiteness and institutional racism have shaped cultural production, politics, and memory. This program will feature a discussion with Rankine and artists Hank Willis Thomas and Alexandra Bell, moderated by LeRonn Brooks, PhD. They will also explore art, activism, how TRII’s new online archive will be used by artists and writers seeking to examine important conversations on race in the U.S. and across the globe through artistic practice.

Livestream link

Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists, and the National Endowment of the Arts. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry. In 2016, she co-founded The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII).  She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Dr. LeRonn P. Brooks an assistant professor in the Department of Africana Studies at Lehman College of CUNY. His interviews, essays, and poetry have appeared in publications for Bomb Magazine, The Studio Museum In Harlem, Socrates Sculpture Park, The Spelman Museum of Art, The International Review of African American Art as well as The Aperture Foundation, among others. He has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and Callaloo Journal and is a curator for The Racial Imaginary Institute and the Bronx Council on the Arts. He is also the creator and executive-producer of Culture/Context, an online conversation series currently featuring major African American and African artists.

Alexandra Bell (b. 1983, Chicago, IL) is a multidisciplinary artist who investigates the complexities of narrative, information consumption, and perception. Utilizing various media, she deconstructs dominant histories to highlight patterns in news reportage and society at large. Bell holds a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities from the University of Chicago and an M.S. in Print Journalism from Columbia University. She lives and works in Brooklyn.

Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history and popular culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad including, the International Center of Photography, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Musée du quai Branly, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Thomas’ work is in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, among others. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males, In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), and For Freedoms which Thomas co-founded in 2016 as the first artist-run super PAC. For Freedoms was recently awarded the 2017 ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. Thomas is also the recipient of the 2017 Soros Equality Fellowship. Current and upcoming exhibitions include Prospect 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp in New Orleans and Freedom Isn’t Always Beautiful at Savannah College of Art and Design Museum. Thomas is a member of the Public Design Commission for the City of New York. He received a BFA in Photography and Africana studies from New York University and a MFA/MA in Photography and Visual Criticism from the California College of Arts. He has also received honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute of Art and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. Thomas lives and works in New York City.