Dalaeja Foreman is a curator, community organizer, first generation Caribbean-American and Brooklyn native. Her curatorial practice seeks to combat misconceptions of oppressed people and resistance through direct action, cultural esteem and the arts. She is a graduate from the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Dalaeja is also alumni of No Longer Empty Curatorial Lab 2015. In January-February 2016, she co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for the BronxArtSpace. The exhibition addressed legacies of injustice and practices of institutional racism, offering alternative views and acts of empowerment for the artist in their communities, creating realities that affirm that #BlackLivesMatter.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for The Bronx Art Space. Could you tell about the roots for establishing that collaboration?
Dalaeja Foreman: That I have! Alongside Linda Cunningham and Eva Mayhabal Davis.
After working with her on a No Longer Empty curatorial fellowship exhibition, Linda (Director of BronxArtSpace) asked me if I would be interested in co-curating an exhibition she was conceptualizing. An exhibition about institutionalized racism, as a white woman, Linda did not feel as though this was an exhibition she should be curating without the voice of a person of color (A decision I respected and cherished deeply, giving me the assurance of her allyship ). After meeting with one another and having a long conversation about the significance of this discourse she told me she would give me curatorial license over the exhibition and asked if I would want to work with anyone. I suggested we work with another No Longer Empty fellow, Eva Mayhabal Davis.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The concept had several outcomes as art works, performances, and community events. Could you tell how it all came together and succeed?
Dalaeja: The exhibition was submission based, inspired by the Respond exhibition at Smack Mellon Gallery. Linda selected a panel of artists (including Eva and I) to review the 80+ submissions. Once we selected the works, Eva and I thought very thoroughly about the themes and counter themes in each selected work and put them in conversations with one another accordingly. We decided it would be best to give extended labels to the works to give our audience as much contextual knowledge as possible. Since the Mott Haven area of the Bronx is heavily Spanish speaking, we also provided the labels in Spanish.
As a strong believer in activating art spaces for radical acts, I wanted to be sure the exhibition had as many programs that responded to the many intersections of racism in our society as our capacity could handle. These themes varied from the criminalization of black and brown youth to the celebration and use of black love and Black Girl Magic as a radical acts.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How was your experience in Bronx, in comparison to Brooklyn, where you are from?
Dalaeja: Aside from being a Curator and Arts administrator, I am a first generation Caribbean-American, community organizer and Brooklyn Native. As an organizer, I have done a considerable amount of work around the mass-displacement of working-class communities (most often communities of color) in Brooklyn. Sadly, Art has been used as as a catalyst for what I consider the cultural erasure of my native borough.
I see the arts as yet another tool for social change, and art has been used historically to work as ancillary support for communities of color. Whether it be thru healing or practical solutions for community issues. Although this is a truth for Brooklyn’s artistic history, I feel as though this concept has been stronger in Bronx history due to the many ways State and city institutions have historically neglected Bronx county.
Artists can use their talents for exposing truth for the benefit of their communities and this seems to be particularly weaved into the fabric of the artistic history of the Bronx. A history I have incredible respect for, that continues on.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How important was the role of social media in creating networks, and establishing new audiences?
Dalaeja: Eva is more of the social media wiz. I was more concerned about the ways in which we could ensure the community members knew about the exhibition and we’re involved in our programming. This outreach included, working with the BronxArtSpace interns to outreach to local high schools, doing physical flying for the exhibition, dropping flyers off at local bodegas and restaurants. As well as dropping information of at local libraries and speaking/building relationships with community members. Some of whom were artists in the exhibition, which made me soon happy!
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your ideal audience for the art?
Dalaeja: Since I truly see art as a tool for inspiring radical action, my ideal audience is always working-class people (some of whom also happen to be artists and art enthusiast). Especially in the case of the ‘Speak Out’ exhibition because, it took place in a working class community. If these spaces aren’t intended for their own communities, why should they exist there? This is a concept Linda truly understands which is yet another reason I LOVE working with her.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in coming to curating arts?
Dalaeja: I began working in the arts as a part-time Gallery Assistant at the Milk Gallery then began working as an exhibition manager for a small gallery that specialized in 20th and 21st century counter-cultural ephemera (say that 10 times fast. bahaha). This experience helped me realize the significance the arts have had on social movements of the past and inspired me to pursue curation. I began taking online course with Node Center to learn more. After the gallery lost funding and I lost my job I decided to use the little bit of money I had saved to invest in my interest and started applying for fellowship programs. After my incredible experience with the No Longer Empty fellowship, I decided this is surly a way I could use my interest in the arts pragmatically to help plant the psychological seeds for social change. I still have so much to learn to pursue my practice as radically and community-collaboratively as I can, and am currently a Create Change Fellow with the INCREDIBLE Laundromat Project.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you education support your current directions and help you to develop your vision?
Dalaeja: I studied Visual Presentation and Exhibition design at The Fashion Institute of Technology, this experience helped me truly understand my love of space and it’s possibilities. I minored in International politics which further introduced me to the ways in which politics (on a community level) and exhibitions/display can merge. Most of my curatorial focused knowledge has been from lived experience, work experience and continuing education programs. As a lover of knowledge, I am interested in perusing a Masters degree in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Africa and Asia.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you develop your curatorial concepts, is there a phase of writing or visualizing things in a specific manner, or talking?
Dalaeja: It is a bit of all of those things. I am a ranter by nature so that really helps with getting concepts across that I believe are worth exploring.
Often I am inspired by the political education meetings with the organization I am a part of (The People Power Movement) as well as my friends and family members. Or I may have a design concept in mind that I think is worth collaborating with artists one. BUT most importantly, I am inspired by the Art work and the concepts that artist is exploring.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think is a role of a curator in society in large, in other words, how do you think the micro ideas meet the macro levels?
I believe Curators have a powerful platform, giving us the ability to work with artists and communities to push narratives into the mainstream consciousness. These narratives can help people critically think and sympathize deeply about concepts in which they weren’t even aware of. This is a responsibility of utmost importance, one with the opportunity to empower a community, a people and a generation. -Dalaeja Foreman
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your political activism has a mind of a movement, in which people power takes a different stance. Does New York City represent a special place for activism to you?
Dalaeja: New York City means a great deal to me in regards to activism, but that is because it is the only place I’ve ever known as home. Although a wide array of injustices are happening in my city, they are also happening everywhere in the country. A political revolution could be sparked anywhere at anytime, the important thing is that we support one another’s actions and grow together using people power and a thirst or justice as our binding force toward a political system that works for the majority.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have favorite art forms, or is the medium secondary to other things that matter?
Dalaeja: I do, I love sculpture and painting, textured art objects and photographs. I’m trying to challenge myself to work more with performing artists since it’s not my go-to. However, content that compliments aesthetics and artistic merit (according to my opinion of those concepts) are of most importance.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you identify and experience yourself as a black woman art professional in NYC art community, or does that resonate in a professional level to you personally?
Dalaeja: My Black woman experience is at the forefront of all of my experiences because it is the only lens in which I can see the world and is often the most determining lens in which the world sees me. With that being said, as a young arts professional I believe it is my duty to ensure that people who are marginalized (like myself) demand their voices heard in institution that effect our lived experiences. Whether they be our schools, museums or workplaces. And MOST IMPORTANTLY create our own institutions that work for us from conception onward.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your next dream of consciousness, where are you heading to collaborate next?
Dalaeja: As an Art Administrator in the Bronx, I am really excited to learn more about what artists are and have been doing in the borough and figuring out how I can best support them and the communities they collaborate with. As well as, continuing and improving my organizing and hopefully trying to figure out some more schooling while doing all of that (inside and outside the education institutions).
Dalaeja Foreman’s website: http://www.dalaeja.co/