Pre Gather: Salome Asega

I first met Brooklyn-based researcher and artist Salome Asega in Harlem, New York. Soon we’ll meet again in Sweden when she is speaking about afrofuturism and inclusive design at the first installment of Gather Festival in Stockholm, September 14.

Our first meeting took place during a Sunday brunch organised by Sistah Friends Project, a community organisation that bring black women together in the field of arts, media and culture to discuss the challenges we face, and the solutions and opportunities we collectively can create together. Salome Asega, one of the founders of Sistah Friends Project, initiated the group during college when she learned that discussing complicated issues and solving challenges was easier in settings with others.“In college, I started to learn about the need to centre myself. I could talk about more complex and richer when I was in a community of other people,” she says.

photo taken by Kearra Amaya Gopee, from project P0SSESSI0N

As a new media artist Salome use participatory research and collaborative work to build 3D artworks, VR installations, video projects and design thinking workshops that invite the community to participate, create and shape their own creative processes. Together with Ayodamola Okunseinde she has developed Iyapo Repository, a platform that invites participants of African descent to shape how their future will be achieved with the help of digital technology.
“We learned that imagination is a privilege for a lot of people. It’s hard to think about the future when you’re just going through your day.”

photo taken by Kearra Amaya Gopee, from project Iyapo Repository by Salome Asega and Ayodamola Okunsiende
photo taken by Derek Schultz, from project Iyapo Repository by Salome Asega and Ayodamola Okunsiende

She has also been involved with PWRPLANT, a tech education space in Bushwick in Brooklyn with the mission to manifest digital technology as a right, not a privilege.
With the availability of digital technology, anyone can learn a new skill, build something, be creative and use their voice. By organising the workshops in the kid’s own neighbourhood Salome saw that the kids took ownership of their own creativity and participation. Providing an open safe space became key when teaching and encouraging the community to create.
With the mentality of many kids today Salome envisions another future. Instead of thinking, `When I grow up I want to be this´, kids today think I am already something.
From discussing art and technology with Salome it’s clear that collaboration and creativity happen when people feel like they belong, when they’re included and when they have a voice.

Why is collaboration important to you?
– I think I enjoy working collaboratively with other people because the process is messier and the editing takes longer. There are so many ways to cut into an idea and when you are working collaboratively, your partners bring in their own knowledge sets and experiences to the table. I’m forced to slow down and identify the holes in my thinking and map other folks’ sets of values and assets into the work we’re doing. I feel like each project is an experiment in how to make a multiplied voice in a specific narrative.

How do you include collaboration in your creative process? And how is it influencing your work?
– Collaborations sort of casually happen. I don’t force them. I think what usually happens is a friend and I are talking about something we read or an idea we’ve been sitting on and then, through a brain jam, we begin the work of building a bridge between both of our practices.

photo taken by Sean Pressley, from project P2P by Salome Asega, Dyani Douze, and Floyd Little Double Dutch

A good example of this would be P2P, a project I worked on with multimedia artist and DJ Dyani Douze and world champ double dutch team Floyd Little. We came together to work on a piece where Floyd Little choreographed a routine, Dyani scored the performance and designed the sound installation, and I made wearable electronic pieces for the jumpers that reacted to their movements. We all contributed some aspect of our domains into creating this piece about transference and sharing information between members of a collective or nodes in a network, which I think made for a richer experience.

How can digital technology facilitate collaboration in the art world?
– There are so many platforms and forums that help us find each other now. I’m thinking about how quickly I have been able to meet and connect with folks in my areas of interest and how these connections often turn into resource sharing pipelines that feel less top-down, and instead decentralized and out.

How can artists today collaborate with other industries?
– There are so many ways this can happen because art and design cross into so many sectors and can be integrated really seamlessly. An artistic framework or perspective is actually just necessary to how other industries develop. I like to think this is why the NYC Office of the Mayor started a designer-in-residence program last year. Whether it’s a local government or a product or a function, an artist lens finds new and challenging ways to communicate an idea.

Courtesy of the artist, still from ASM(V)R, a VR meditation developed by Salome Asega, Reese Donohue, Tongkwai Lulin in partnership with PTP

Collaborating can be tricky and complicated, what’s your recommendation for better collaborative work?
– I think firstly acknowledging that it’s going to be tricky and complicated is the first step because you’re human and you’re working with humans. Learn to be patient with others and yourself. A couple years ago, I set three main rules or guiding principles for myself as someone working in the arts, design, participatory research: 1) Collaboration over an individual producer
2) Prioritize the voices of audiences that are politically and artistically erased, ignored, or pushed to the margins
3)The setting is fundamental to the project.

Be sure to listen to Salome’s talk on Thursday the 14th at Gather Festival, get your tickets at gatherfestival.com

By Lydia Kellam
Headshot photo taken by Naima Green