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MOCA Check In: Onajide Shabaka

Moca check in: onajide shabaka artist portrait; Butler Island Plantation, Altamaha Wildlife Management Area

What is your name and title/occupation?
Onajide Shabaka, visual artist, writer, cultural practitioner

What are you reading/watching/listening to?
Mostly, I’m listening lately to the same podcasts I have been over the past few years: The New School, Getty, NASA, Star Talk, National Gallery of Art, Rocking Chair Sessions, Fresh Art Int’l, and a few others.
My reading list has grown but the political news has been a focus of late, although it is problematic to listen to much of it. More interesting to read is archeology, geology, biology and the environment back through “deep time” (meaning, geologic time), and I have been reading that stuff for decades.
My unread/ or partially book reading list focuses on the historical period of African American and Indigenous cultures between 1800 to 1920s. The primary reason for those years is the period of the African Atlantic colonial era. And the primary contact with my grandparents that were born then. I was fortunate in receiving several grants over the past few years to assist with deep research (Duke University and Suriname) and three exhibitions: grants awarded from Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator, The Ellies, and Wavemaker Grant. The exhibitions were at Little Haiti Cultural Center, Emerson Dorsch Gallery, and The Studios of Key West. In total that covers about four years of my art practice up to now. I am still working on a new body of photographic works from a residency in coastal Georgia just before sequestration.

What are you working on right now (or how has your work changed over the last few months)?
The next phase of my botanical based project will take place in IS Projects (F.A.T. Village, Ft. Lauderdale) at a book making residency I was awarded. I will explore some different printmaking and bookmaking techniques to produce something related to my “African Atlantic” botanical project which is primarily focused on the African heritage rice that was discovered by DNA species analysis found in Suriname.
I’ve also been expanding another body of work exploring the night blooming jasmine. We had one right outside our bedroom door when my family moved to Los Angeles. However, the scent has such a rich history, and seems to conjure up many notions but I’m just now exploring ways to give it a voice within my current focus.

What are you most looking forward to once we are no longer sequestered?
It would be really a beautiful experience to visit with a few friends, have a bite to eat and share a bottle of wine. Of course, I have family members that I need to visit as well. None of us are getting any younger, my father and aunt are both in their nineties and their health is holding up. Mine too! But, I still need to visit them.

Have you taken up any new activities?
No new activities but I have increased the intensity of my workouts which I do every other day. As I just mentioned, my health is good and working out is part of my regime to stay healthy, along with whole foods. I have cooked most of the food I’ve eaten throughout my life and that continues to be the case.

Do you have a MOCA memory that you want to share?
I have many memories about MOCA. Probably one of the strongest personal memories in contrast to the building you see today is when the concrete flooring was poured. You know, seeing a piece of land transform in its many phases, over months into a museum is amazing. Nothing substantial gets done without a crew, a group, that works together toward a goal. I think about that almost every time I walk through the doors even though I may rarely mention it. I am honored I was able to be part of that.


Moca check in: onajide shabaka Community rice planting, Suriname
Community rice planting, Suriname


Moca check in: onajide shabaka "Alosugbe," exhibition at Emerson Dorsch Gallery, 2019.
“Alosugbe,” exhibition at Emerson Dorsch Gallery, 2019.