My name is Zainab Aliyu (f.k.a. zai) ꩜ like and I am an artist and cultural worker living in occupied Lenapehoking. My work is about the material affect of the "immaterial"; I contextualize the cybernetic and temporal entanglement embedded within societal dynamics to understand how all sociotechnological systems of control are interconnected, and how we are all implicated through time. I often dream, experiment and inquire through built virtual environments, printed matter, video, archives, writing, installation and community-participatory (un)learning. more...
recent listens Float On — Modest Mouse (4 days ago)present engagements
creating archives for moving image and time-based media and directing design for the African Film Festival at Film at Lincoln Center [New York, NY] (Feb 2020 — ongoing)
speaking about the transformative processes of textile and code at CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile) [Hong Kong] (April 2021)
experimentally publishing non-linear poem "affirmations for my existence" on reading machines [internet] (Jan 2021)
public reading of The Dictionary of Dark Matters on Montez Press Radio [New York, NY internet] (Jan 2021)
co-organized and assisted teaching for Dark Matters: On Blackness, Surveillance and the Whiteness of the Screen at the School for Poetic Computation, with American Artist [New York, NY internet] (May 2020 — July 2020)
Collaborated with BUFU By Us For Us to create a platform called CLOUD9 (Collective Love on Ur Desktop) for sharing care, strategies, wisdom, sweetness, resources and love to support everyone affected by the coronavirus pandemic [internet] (March 2020 — May 2020)[...]
A self-published people's dictionary on surveillance, racial capitalism and technology. during the summer of 2020, thirty students studied the critical theory of technology alongside each other, stewarded by American Artist and myself. Together, we created The Dictionary of Dark Matters, an assemblage of knowledge established within our mutual histories, comprised of poetry, prose, creative writing, personal history and illustration based on terms we have come across during our time together. The class and culminating publication gave us intentional time to tend to ourselves as we contend with this predatory state, to study the material while existing within the systems we are learning to name.
Organized by American Artist and myself, designed by me (cover in collaboration with American Artist), edited by Jessica Rajko, and assembled with the support of Are.na and Callil Capuozzo. The book can be read for free online, or purchased physically on its website. "Dark Matters: On Blackness, Surveillance and the Whiteness of the Screen" is a class taught at the School for Poetic Computation. The class takes its namesake from Simone Browne's book, and its 2020 iteration was organized by American Artist and myself, with session advising and support from Lauren Gardner.
full front and back cover.
video of book's website.
a collaborative virtual environment and rapid-response global livestream for sharing mutual aid resources and solidarity to directly inform and support everyone in our worldwide community affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. CLOUD9 (collective love on ur desktop) takes on a for us by us approach, centering LGBTQIA Black, Indigenous, People of Color, as our risk of contracting COVID-19 is heavily compounded because of overlapping societal systems.
Cloud9.support was created in collaboration with BUFU By Us For Us and China Residencies. From March 27th to May 1st, 2020, we held ~100 public live-streamed programs for over 5,000 participants from around the world, shared mutual aid resources, launched two global 24 hour parties, as well as sacred space to mourn with vigils. Funds received were used to supplement lost income within our community due to the pandemic. Read more about CLOUD9 from Pioneer Works, Autostraddle and Frieze Art Magazine.
cloud9 community calendar.
Our community calendar was powered by a custom built content management system flow connected to AirTable, a collaborative spreadsheet-database tool. We wanted to create something easily accessible and editable by the many organizers involved in the daily programming, but still powerful and accommodating of the content needed to be archived and shared out.
A counter-narrative installation and essay that poses the question: how are cultural value systems encoded in the objects that we build and the mythologies they conjure? Employing visual programming and physical computing, the installation resurfaces the relegated contributions of women in early computing history through gendered divisions of labor. more than that, it intimately links two geographically and temporally separate yet thematically and somewhat functionally connected objects: early forms of computer memory, and the opele divination chain (a form of ancestral memory from my Yorùbá nigerian family lineage). this piece offers an intervention against Western capitalist doctrines of linear temporality that habitually prioritize future-facing "progress" at the expense of erasing our mutual histories.
I am captivated by the conceptual and aesthetic symmetry of two seemingly unrelated objects — core rope memory from early software computing and the opele divination chain from my Nigerian lineage — and their distinct relationships to memory and erasure. During the pioneering of the Apollo spacecraft mission, women workers (the first being an African American lab technician named Hilda G. Carpenter) manually wove memory into computer systems, based on translating software programmed by MIT engineers. I identify with these women whose contributions, like those of my ancestors, have been relegated and untold.
As an installation, "Death as a Moment of Radical Continuity" surfaces this erasure, refiguring the opele divination chain and early forms of computer memory as mnemonic devices for me to further process and interrogate these themes through physical and visual computing mediums. Depending on the orientation of the eight shells facing up or down, a number between 0 and 255 can be drawn (as an 8-bit binary counter) and programmed to activate the core memory. A corresponding image from a forgotten archive of 256 photos from my grandmother, who has the closest link to this practice in my lineage, is programmed to respond to orientation of the shells.
The visual programming references ontological aspects of non-linear time in East African tradition where the past is an infinitely capacious realm that we are approaching rather than moving away from, contrasting Western capitalist doctrines of linear temporality that habitually prioritize future-facing progress at the expense of erasing the past. Our bodies are archives and sites of memory that cannot and will not be overwritten, despite technological attempts to render them as such.
A foldable pamphlet and poster created in active solidarity with the movement for Black lives. This toolkit, which focuses on anti-surveillance, digital self-defense and care before, during and after action, was created as an urgent response against ongoing state violence. Deep gratitude to the community of organizers and educators who helped contribute to this emergency publication, and friends at small presses for supporting our decentralized publishing efforts with free distribution across New York, Oakland and the wider Bay Area.
Curated, edited and designed by myself and Allison Chan, in collaboration with BUFU By Us For Us (Summer 2020). Materialized as an 11”x17” foldable poster to fit in your pocket, as well as an 8.5”x11” single sheet to easily share online or print at home. Available to download for free from Printed Matter and Wendy's Subway.
a collective zine engaging personal narratives around surveillance, racial capitalism and technology that emerged in the critical theory of technology class, Dark Matters. through its materials and construction, the zine foregrounds the memorabilia of capitalist labor — paper copies, manila folders, paper clips, dixon pencils and white labels — residue from the xerox office regime that is reminiscent of the technologies that dictate the conditions of our world by reinforcing existing systems of power.
Designed by American Artist, Esther Bouquet, Allison Chan and myself, featuring written and visual contributions by residents of the School for Poetic Computation‘s fall 2019 session. Archived at the Museum of Modern Art Library in New York City (2019).
This zine is a collective project of the critical theory of technology class, Dark Matters: Blackness, Surveillance, and the Whiteness of the Screen taught by American Artist. Sharing a namesake with Simone Browne’s Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness, this class sought accountability to our mutual histories, taking a critical focus on identity, visibility, opacity, obfuscation, and automation, and how one reckons with the contention of their own body in public and in private. Together we questioned how to remain critical of legacy power structures that are embedded in the devices we interface with daily.
An artist-run school, residency and research group that explores the intersections of code, design, hardware and critical theory. I think of poetic computation as an act of resistance against the utilitarian notions of “efficiency” and "progress" that often replicate structures of domination and capitalist agendas. I hope for my work within the school to contribute to a learning commons and study space for folks to creatively harness this resistance - through generosity, curiosity and openness - and support one another in re-building this world with care.
the school for poetic computation was founded in new york city in 2013.
Co-organizer and teaching assistant for Dark Matters: a critical theory of technology course that relies on an expanded notion of study, and considers the racialized history of surveillance and the positioning of white as neutral within interfaces as forms of violence enacted through high technology. (May to July 2020)
Co-organizer of Seven Years of Poetic Computation: I stewarded the space, "Code and Power," which describes the way in which the technology of societal systems frequently reinforce economic and social inequalities, risking further marginalization of vulnerable communities. Exhibiting artists — who examined issues of access, automation, inclusion and machine bias — included American Artist, Andrew Badr, Bomani Oseni McClendon, Josh Michaels, Sean Catangui, Shannon Finnegan and Yeseul Song. (January 2020)
Co-organizer (with Nabil Hassein) of "Critical Theory Retrospective": A convening around the relevance of critical theory of technology to broader debates about inclusion, exclusion and machine bias; the ecological impact of computation; cultural expressions of and through computation; general social/political questions of who controls computation and to what ends, and how that might be different in the future than it is now. (January 2020)
Co-organizer (with Nabil Hassein) of "Math as a Religious Experience": on model and metaphor; music and visual art; physics and divination; the infinitely large, the infinitely small, and what it means to live our values in the world. (January 2020)
an identity, website and ongoing archival, print publication and moving image curation work for the african film festival. this continued work is a testament to my affinity for the medium of cinema, not only as a tool for expression, experimentation and play, but also, like in the case of the african film festival, a conduit for diaspora reconnection with radical potential.
african film festival is an annual festival that takes place in new york (usually at the film at lincoln center), as well as an international organization for year round film programming, archiving and education.
selected spreads from aff's publication, "notes from home: recurring dreams & women's voices" (2021).
website design, website development and identity design (2020).
ongoing archival and curation work.
selected spreads from aff's publication, "streaming rivers: the past into the present" (2020).
a collection and performance that unpacks the notion of "creeping normality" to reflect upon perennial social and environmental degradation. Drawing links between the accelerated effects of the global climate crisis, the gradual erosion of civil liberties during interwar Germany and the desensitization of continued police brutality in the United States, the line offers a metaphor cautioning cognizance of gradual change, lest we suffer consequences beyond repair. Elements within the line transition from one extreme to another, appearing through minimal yet deliberate alterations and paralleling the nature of cultural, political and environmental landscapes that are continuously in flux.
presented at carnegie mellon university's annual experimental fashion show, lunar gala. designed in collaboration with kate werth and jonathan lopez (2016). Written about in Carnegie Mellon News, TribLive and The Tartan.
a critique of the corrosive cycle of overconsumption in digital times. Vestige overstimulates viewers with consumerist culture imagery, instigating an information high and sensory overload. There is no breathing room, type and image overtake the page to fully immerse the viewer, forcing them to consume even more. Imagery juxtaposes this new, shiny, consumable content with a literal vestige of computer manipulation: compression. The content becomes degraded, and viewers are left with a mere fragment of the image they originally had, though the colors and experience of Vestige’s materials remain wholly stimulating. By rejecting the affordances of friction-free consumption and exchange, vestige forces the question: are we willing to unearth the remnants of empire to salvage the intimacies buried beyond hyper-visibility?
for Lunar Gala (2015), an annual experimental fashion show based in Pittsburgh and cultivated by the creative community within Carnegie Mellon University. Every year, the show's theme reflect's that year's Chinese zodiac animal (goat).
Due to the over-consumptive nature of the theme, we wanted the virtual environment and overall identity to be saturated with information and periodic breaks to leave the audience gasping with the change of pace. The visual manifestation of this idea took on an oversaturated aesthetic of colors and elements.
With the website, all the content is on the page at all times. In order to overwhelm the viewer, the page is constantly in motion and overflowing with text and images. The idea is to give the viewer a taste of what is to come at the actual show.
identity translation to mobile.
Elements of the website served as a foundation for much of the identity system. The technique of dynamically compressing type and image was developed for the website and then adapted to print and motion design pieces.
the show's program.
We played motions pieces like these during the show as openers and closers for the two acts.
variations of identity translation to print.
custom typefaces used throughout the show's identity, which were designed with the intent of being dramatically stretched and scaled.
leveraging spatial storytelling to describe the journey of Hazelwood, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh that has experienced urban violence and poverty stemming from institutional divestiture and the vanishing steel industry. The space questions the larger systemic forces in our society, while engaging our community to be empowered by vulnerability, strengthened from compassion and engaged with the issues that matter most to us.
Designed with the Hazelwood community in Pittsburgh and classmates from the class of 2017 at Carnegie Mellon University School of Design. Written about in Pittsburgh Magazine (May 2017), Pittsburgh NPR 90.5 (May 2017), Post-Gazette (May 2017) and Carnegie Mellon News (April 2017).
a six part anthology of one-act plays about (1) the contemporaneity of sociologist Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical approach in The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life (1959) that describes identity, construction of ‘self,’ and human behavior as a series of performances that are shaped by time, place and audience; (2) the relationship of the ‘online disinhibition effect’ to notions of ‘default whiteness,’ surveillance and power structures on the Internet; (3) the role of design in replicating offline oppressive systems into online contexts; (4) and my experience with growing up in virtual spaces.
While Goffman didn't live to see the prevalence of digital communication, much of his analyses of face-to-face interactions can be applied in virtual contexts through the lens of the online disinhibition effect, which describes the loosening of social restrictions when communicating on digital platforms. Each piece of the six-part series focuses on a digital social platform and portrays the implications of computer-aided affordances (e.g. default whiteness, surveillance, identity tourism, identity curation, catfishing, identity theft, cyber bullying, trolling) in order to build upon Goffman's original approach.