My name is Zainab “Zai” Aliyu and I'm a nigerian-american artist and cultural worker living in Lenapehoking (Brooklyn, NY). My work contextualizes the cybernetic and temporal entanglement embedded within societal dynamics to understand how all sociotechnological systems of control are interconnected, and how we are all materially implicated through time. I draw upon my body as a corporeal archive and site of ancestral memory to craft counter-narratives through sculpture, video, installation, built virtual environments, printed matter, archives, and community-participatory (un)learning. more... more...
Instruments of the Black Gooey Universe published by The Kitchen
forthcoming Jan 2024 · print
“Echoes in the Archive: Decoding Colonial Legacies through Sonic and Textual Intervention” at NYU Tisch School of the Arts
forthcoming Dec 2023 · New York, NY
experimental school supporting interdisciplinary study in art, code, hardware and critical theory called the School for Poetic Computation
since Jan 2020 · New York, NY
MFA Studio at Rutgers, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Invited by
Oct 2023 · New Brunswick, NJ
Barro, moho, manifiesto: Un otro taller de creación del mundo / Mud, mold, manifest: (An)other world-building workshop at Pocoapoco
Oct 2023 · Oaxaca, Mexico
American Artist, Zainab Aliyu, Taylor Levy and Che-Wei Wang Explore The Black Gooey Universe presented by The Kitchen, In collaboration with
Montez Press Radio
Sep 2023 · New York, NY
Typojanchi: The International Typography Biennale at Culture Station Seoul
Sep 2023 — Oct 2023 · Seoul, Korea
Sep 2023 — Oct 2023 · Oaxaca, Mexico
Jun 2023 — Sep 2023 · New York, NY
"From the Sasha into the Zamani: Death as a Moment of Radical Continuity" published by Logic(s) Magazine (Columbia University), Edited by
J. Khadijah Abdurahman and Xiaowei R. Wang
May 2023 · internet · print
“A morte como momento de continuidade radical / Death as a Moment of Radical Continuity” at Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research
Apr 2023 · São Paulo, Brazil
Conscientizações Críticas Tecnológicas (Technologies of Critical Conscientization) at the Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research, Invited by
Dalida María Benfield, Ph.D.
Apr 2023 — May 2023 · São Paulo, Brazil
Aktuelle Architektur der KulturImages (AADK Spain)
Mar 2023 · Murcia, Spain
Linguagem Manual / Manual Language at Buinho Institute, Curated by
Carlos Alcobia and Mónica Reis
Feb 2023 · Messejana, Portugal
Feb 2023 · Messejana, Portugal
"google my memories" at Microscope Gallery, Curated by
Nov 2022 · New York, NY
On how we might interact with data in more liberatory ways that divest from the monopoly of big data in Friends of Friends , With
Oct 2022 · Berlin, Germany
p5.js Access Day, Invited by
Dorothy Santos and Qianqian Ye
May 2022 · internet
Dark Matters: On Blackness, Surveillance and the Whiteness of the Screen at the School for Poetic Computation, In collaboration with
Mar 2022 — May 2022 · internet
Assembly, Alchemy, Ascension at Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Curated by
JAZSALYN, Shameekia Shantel Johnson, and Yvonne Mpwo
Feb 2022 — Mar 2022 · New York, NY
"Death as a Moment of Radical Continuity"
Digital Networks, Aesthetics and Black Death at Black Portraitures: Absent/ed Presence, Invited by
Oct 2021 · Toronto, Canada
AncestryandMe: On critical approaches to DNA analysis and biometric surveillance at the School for Poetic Computation, In collaboration with
Jul 2021 — Aug 2021 · internet
Black Beyond: Origins, Curated by
JAZSALYN and Shameekia Shantel Johnson
Jun 2021 — Nov 2021 · internet
"Death as a Moment of Radical Continuity”
Interweaving Poetic Code at CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile), Invited by
Takahashi Mizuki and Bruce Li
Apr 2021 · Hong Kong, China
Wheaton Biennial: final_final_FINAL at the Beard and Weil Galleries, Juried by
Mar 2021 — May 2021 · Norton, MA
Code as Creative Medium: A Handbook for Computational Art and Design published by The MIT Press, By
Golan Levin and Tega Brain
Feb 2021 · print
"_____ in residence" Residency at Babycastles
Dec 2020 · New York, NY
Major Studio, MFA Design & Technology at Parsons, The New School, Invited by
May 2020 · New York, NY
Dark Matters: On Blackness, Surveillance and the Whiteness of the ScreenSchool for Poetic Computation, In collaboration with
May 2020 — Jul 2020 · internet
Dark Spirals: Schematics for Collective Sense-Making, Learning and Dreaming (001: FESTAC'77) at the The Africa Center, In collaboration with
Feb 2020 · New York, NY
Seven Years of Poetic Computation (Code and Power) at the Westbeth Gallery
Jan 2020 · New York, NY
Black Solidarity Conference at Yale University
Feb 2017 · New Haven, CT
꩜ full cv available upon request
An archival depiction of contemporary Black being that extends beyond the frame to emphasize the urgency of imagining generative possibilities for holding and being beholden to each other, given the conditioned violences derived from the structure of the hold (as described by theorist Christina Sharpe). Evoking poet Lucille Clifton’s call to ‘sing for red dust and black clay,’ I invited thirty filmmakers working within African diasporic cinema to imagine speculative containers for holding expressions traced from the contours of Black existence. What emerges is a cross-diasporic, intergenerational, and collective meditation on holding, and an assemblage of the vessels from which their meaning is attained.
Presented as a solo exhibition at Film at Lincoln Center (May 2023 · New York, NY).
single channel video, 39:00 minutes.
selected film stills.
original drawings from filmmakers working across african diasporic cinema, which were then translated into digitized forms.
commission from african film festival at film at lincoln center, featuring artifacts and excerpts from piece.
project website can be visited here.
a series of print ephemera, refigured colonial sculptures, and a web-based decryption tool that appropriate the language of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) data encryption software to explore privacy as intimacy and underline the ways communities resist structures of oppression to safely prosper.
[*this is an ongoing, in progress project.] presented in group exhibition at Buinho (feb 2023 · Messejana, Portugal).
The visual language of the postcards references the Freedom Quilts of the Underground Railroad that were embedded with code to signal refuge, and pulled in symbols inspired by various African crafts such as àdìrę dying (Yorùbá), adinkra stamps (Asante), nkisi charms (Congo), and kuba patterns (Congo).
Prototype of web-based decryption tool.
Reference: Freedom Quilts of the Underground Railroad.
Reference: “Hidden in Plain View” (Tobin, Dobard, Wahlman)
“Pretty Good Privacy Postcards” is envisioned as a network of installations implicating each country involved in the Scramble for Africa —Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom—, pointing to the legacy of resistance as a global and interconnected effort, and underlining the ways communities refigure structures of oppression to safely prosper.
Reference: Coat of arms of André Vidal de Negreiros and inscription of the foundation of the chapel of Nazare.
The first of these sculptures, “Grande Coragem (it takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it)” (2023) refigures its colonial precedent and situates the Bailundo Revolt by the Ovimbundu Kingdom (present-day Angola) against the Portuguese Empire within this global struggle. 80cm x 60cm x 3cm. wood, hand painted arabic azulejo ceramic tiles, riso-printed postcards.
Installation view at Buinho (Messejana, Portugal).
A counter-narrative installation and essay that explores how cultural value systems are encoded in the objects that we build and the mythologies they conjure. the installation resurfaces the relegated contributions of women in early computing history through gendered divisions of labor. More than that, it draws an intimate connection between 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.
Published in Logic(s) Magazine (May 2023). Presented as a lecture-performance at Black Portraitures: Absent/ed Presence (Oct 2021 · toronto, canada) and the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (apr 2021 · hong kong, china). Featured in Ocula (Jul 2021) and Creative Applications (Jan 2020). Exhibited at the School for Poetic Computation (Dec 2019 · new york, ny).
Installation view at the School for Poetic Computation.
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.
Installation view at the School for Poetic Computation.
Installation view at the School for Poetic Computation.
Written piece to accompany installation. Published in Logic(s) Magazine (May 2023).
An experimental, durational, moving image meditation foregrounding anthems of celebration across the diaspora and traversing borders to fabricate an infinite, pan-African chorus of shared somatic vibrations. Drawing upon Saidiya Hartman’s notion of the chorus in “Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments,” the piece surfaces “wayward” compositions that distort the colonial residue and remnants of empire in our ongoing collective struggle for liberation, as evidenced in the historical effigies of national freedom songs across the African diaspora, many still imbued with chauvinistic and patriarchal constructs.
Install View at the Film at Lincoln Center.
Sped-up excerpt without sound. The piece is a computationally generated ensemble composed from 80+ anthems, protests, hymns and freedom songs from the diaspora. as a durational, non-linear browser-based experimental film, it is infinitely playing, and resets at the beginning of every hour.
Cropped and zoomed in excerpt with sound. The sound is largely composed from a living ethno-musicological archive I assembled, and continue to assemble, of instruments across the African diaspora. Anytime a country is referenced in the text, a sound from an instrument from that country plays.
Excerpt from the intro that plays on the hourly reset.
a non-linear audiovisual poem reimagined for the web to challenge established relationships between reader, text, and authorship, and to fully utilize the affordances the internet offers in the presentation of text and sound. the poem speaks of migration, lineage and the mythology of the american dream, from my perspective as a nigerian-born immigrant.
featured in cult classic mag (sep 2022). exhibited during Assembly, Alchemy, Ascension at Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery (feb 2022 — mar 2022 · new york, ny). published on reading machines (jan 2021 · internet).
Video of piece.
Installation view at Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery.
Installation view at Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery.
Still from piece.
An audiovisual meditation on technologically-mediated memory, haptic visuality and critical fabulation. By contextualizing current and future shortcomings of a personal and collective memory of a specific space, landscape, and time that is incoherent without technology, I acknowledge a dissonance felt when personal memory is not as expansive as a search engine—emphasizing a divide between memory and technology. The piece situates technology within a diasporic imaginary to explore the ways in which machines can mediate the affects of displacement, human mobility and (re)settlement.
single channel video, 4:05 minutes.
stills from video.
A publication bringing together experiences of combined action. With a focus on labor organizing within the arts and tech industries, In Poetic Coalition explores the potential of creating alternative networks of education and challenging the material conditions that prevent us from enacting new realities with dignity and security. When we defy existing models for institution-building, what possibilities for gathering can materialize and what kinds of learning and unlearning can we practice together?
cover of book.
a 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 and comprised of poetry, prose, creative writing, personal history and illustration based on terms we came across during our time together. The class and culminating publication gave us intentional time to tend to ourselves as we contended with this predatory state, to study the material while existing within the systems we were learning to name.
Organized by myself and American Artist as a culmination of "Dark Matters," a class we taught at the School for Poetic Computation (may 2020 — jul 2020). Designed by me and supported by Are.na. Available here.
photo of the cover of the book.
full cover spread.
video walkthrough of website i designed and developed for the book.
excerpt from table of contents.
list of contributors. For transparency, every voice within the dictionary is uniquely represented with the contributor's preference in typography. By archiving our histories and inserting our direct experiences into the critical theories we learned, we were looking inwardly and actively engaging with the way we move through the world.
It feels increasingly necessary, helping us to ask not only about the technologies, processes and policies that govern civil liberties, but also about whose bodies and freedoms are most controlled and policed.
a public reading of our dictionary was published by montez press radio (jan 2021 · new york, ny).
An experimental school, residency and research group that supports interdisciplinary study in art, code, 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.
i’m one of the seven co-directors of the school, currently focusing on publishing, programming, archives and special projects.
video walkthrough of sfpc’s website, designed by myself and built with todd anderson. the default cathode-ray or dark mode is a refusal of the positioning of white as neutral within interfaces, a positioning which this website turns in on itself. read more about my creative direction of the website here.
SFPC's former space at the Westbeth Artists Community located in New York City's West Village, where we studied within the computational and historical lineage of Bell Labs which occupied that space many years before. The four column grid of our website is inspired by those four prominent floor to ceiling windows.
co-organizer for COCOON an experimental summer curriculum exploring the history and poetics of math, critical approaches to biometric surveillance, the craft of reading and writing, being loving and loved online and the augmenting of reality (Jul 2021 — Aug 2021).
The website for COCOON is inspired by the cyclical transformation of silk worm cocoons and the silk blankets of tent caterpillars collectively secreting. It was designed, developed and is maintained by myself and Todd Anderson.
Organizer and teacher, with American Artist, for Dark Matters, a critical theory of technology course that considers the racialized history of surveillance and the positioning of white as neutral within interfaces as forms of violence enacted through high technology. (May 2020 — Jul 2020, Mar 2022 — May 2022).
Organizer and teacher, with American Artist, for AncestryandMe, a class focused on critical approaches to dna analysis and biometric surveillance (Jul 2021 — Aug 2021).
Participants from Dark Matters 2020.
Co-organizer of Seven Years of Poetic Computation. I curated 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. (Jan 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. (Jan 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. (Jan 2020)
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.
Archived at the Museum of Modern Art Library (jan 2020 · new york, ny). Designed by myself, American Artist, Esther Bouquet and Allison Chan, featuring written and visual contributions by residents of the School for Poetic Computation’s fall 2019 session.
This zine is a collective project of the critical theory of technology class, Dark Matters: Blackness, Surveillance, and the Whiteness of the Screen. 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.
cover of zine.
selected excerpt of zine.
selected excerpt of zine.
an audio project and community resource for learning about our ancestral histories within the context of biometric surveillance and DNA tracing technology. ancestryandme is a class where we read and discussed critical accounts of how biometric data has been used and abused while engaging with artistic contributions on the subject. we formed a well-rounded perspective of concept and application and learned how a technology that offers a lot in theory plays out in reality.
ancestryandme is a class stewarded by american artist and myself at the school for poetic computation (jul 2021). our dna processing kit audio project was published by montez press radio (nov 2021 · new york, ny).
audio cover, published by montez press radio.
a collaborative virtual environment, space for collective remembrance 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 queer, trans, black, indigenous, people of color (QTBIPOC), 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 (mar 2020 - may 2020). Featured in Frieze (sep 2020), Software for Artists Day by Pioneer Works (jul 2020), and Autostraddle (may 2020).
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.
The CLOUD9 Memorial Garden is a space for collective remembrance with care, gentleness and respect. Pandemic times limit how we can gather to mourn and remember. During periods of mass loss and isolation, creating intentional spaces to enact and celebrate collective memory is vital.
view of website.
view of website.
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 (jun 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.
folded scan of publication.
scan of front of publication.
scan of back of publication.
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 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 clothing collection and performance that unpacks the notion of “creeping normality” to reflect upon ongoing 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. 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, in collaboration with kate werth and jonathan lopez (feb 2016). Written about in Carnegie Mellon News, TribLive and The Tartan (feb 2016).
photo of runway show.
look 1 from collection.
look 2 from collection.
look 3 from collection.
look 4 from collection.
look 5 from collection.
look 6 from collection.
look 7 from collection.
look 8 from collection.
look 9 from collection.
look 10 from collection.
video of runway show.
a critique of the corrosive cycle of overconsumption in digital times. Vestige overstimulates viewers with consumerist culture imagery, inducing an information high and sensory overload. 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. By rejecting the affordances of friction-free consumption and exchange, vestige questions our willingness to reject the remnants of empire and recover the intimacies buried beyond hyper-visibility.
for Lunar Gala (feb 2015), an annual experimental fashion show based in Pittsburgh. Every year, the show's theme reflect's that year's Chinese zodiac animal — for 2015, the 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.
a space that leverages 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, Pittsburgh NPR 90.5 and Post-Gazette (may 2017), and Carnegie Mellon News (april 2017).
a six part anthology of one-act plays about  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;  the relationship between the online disinhibition effect and notions of default whiteness, surveillance and power structures on the Internet;  the role of design in replicating offline oppressive systems into online contexts;  and my experience with growing up in virtual spaces.
presented as my BFA thesis at carnegie mellon school of design (may 2017).
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.