JENN NKIRU’S PANAFRICAN IMAGINATION:

BLACK STUDIES AS AESTHETIC PRACTICE

rebirth is necessary 1


About Jenn Nkiru

Jenn Nkiru is a British Nigerian filmmaker who received her MFA in film directing from Howard University, thus continuing a long lineage of image makers such as Ernest Dickerson, Arthur Jafa, Malik Sayeed, and Bradford Young who studied under the mentorship of Haile Gerima. At Howard, she was exposed to the breath of international art cinema as well as the rich and variegated tradition of cinemas of the black diaspora, their distinct experimentation with the politics of form and the careful crafting of a personal artistic voice. Her MFA thesis, the experimental documentary En Vogue, about New York’s voguing and ballroom subculture, was shot by Arthur Jafa and Bradford Young, whom she assisted in the production of Dee Rees’s Pariah.  Nkiru wrote a number of music videos ideas for musicians such as Pharrell, Major Laser, J Cole, and Imagine Dragons and collaborated with Kamasi Washington in “Heaven and Earth” for which she directed the video Hub-Tones as well as promotional clips such as Fists of Fury and Space Travelers Lullaby. In 2017, Nkiru wrote, directed, and produced a short film Rebirth Is Necessary, which won best documentary in the 2018 London Independent Film Festival, the Canal + award at the Clermont Ferrand Film Festival, the 2018 Voice of a Woman award at Cannes and was a nominee of the 2018 Best Short Film award at Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival. Additionally, the film was screened internationally at the Museum of Modern Art in Los Angeles (MOCA, LA), at the ICA in London, at the Rotterdam Film Festival in Amsterdam, and introduced the London premiere of Black Panther at the BFI. Nkiru has also curated AFROFREQUENCY, a series of screenings and talks for 4:3, which includes an interview with Janelle Monáe.

Nkiru is best known in popular culture for her work as the second unit director of visuals for The Caters’s “Apeshit” video (directed by Ricky Saiz), a production choice that is in line with Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s history of employing black women directors (such as Melina Matsoukas and Ava Duvernay) in a white and male-dominated industry.

Across works, Nkiru is invested in integrating the agenda of the most radical work in Black Studies, particularly Black Feminist Thought, with experimental film and music aesthetics. Steeped in a simultaneously Pan-African and Afrofuturist sensibility, the Black Arts Movement and Black Power, as well as the desire to draw from her Nigerian roots, Nkiru’s work is also in dialog with the North American Avant-Garde (Maya Deren, in particular) and always firmly grounded in the history of black music –from Sun Ra to Pharoah Sanders, from Sarah Vaughan to Queen Latifah, from Alice Coltrane to Nina Simone. The relationship between visual, sound, and music, as well as movement and tone, are central concerns of her work, which, when possible, is shot in 35mm. She is inspired by Kahlil Joseph, for the way “he showcases black people, black experiences and spirituality in such a visceral way,” and finds Moonlight by Barry Jenkins to be indicative of the possibilities of black cinema: “to be black, to be layered, to be indie, to be arthouse, to critique gender and masculinity, particularly black masculinity – and for all this to be universal.”

AS TOLD TO G/D THYSELF, a film Nkiru co-directed as part of Ummah Chroma which includes Bradford Young, Terrence Nance, Marc Thomas, and Kamasi Washington, just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Her latest work, Black to Techno, commissioned by Gucci and Frieze, reclaims the black origins of electronic music genres in Detroit. It premiered on February 14 at Frieze LA.


Selected Works

Producer
Rebirth is Necessary (2017)
En Vogue (2014)
Seed (2012), dir. David B. Godin

Director
Black to Techno (2019)
As Told To G/D Thyself 
(2019)
Fists of Fury (2018)
Space Travelers Lullaby (2018)
Hub-Tones (2018)
Kong (2018)
Apeshit, Second Unit Director (2018)
Rebirth is Necessary (2017)
Women are Present (2017)
En Vogue (2014)

Writer
Black to Techno (2019)
Rebirth is Necessary (2017)

Production Assistant, Photography
Pariah (2011), dir. Dee Rees, cinematography by Bradford Young

Curator
AFROFREQUENCY with 4:3 (2018)
(Watch here 4:3 Live: An evening with Janelle Monáe & Jenn Nkiru)


Selected Interviews

“Jenn Nkiru.” British Council. 2018. http://film.britishcouncil.org/comment/spotlight/2018/jenn-nkiru

Okojie, Irenosen. “Litro #162: Literary Highlife | Interview: Jenn Nkiru.” Litro. May 8, 2017. https://www.litro.co.uk/2017/05/litro-162-literary-highlife-interview-jenn-nkiru/

Hanan, Ali. “Director Jenn Nkiru on greenlighting projects, life without a mentor and her love of 35mm.” The Drum. April 23, 2018. https://www.thedrum.com/news/2018/04/23/director-jenn-nkiru-greenlighting-projects-life-without-mentor-and-her-love-35mm

Nkiru in Conversation with Kamasi Washington

McLean, Matthew. “Jenn Nkiru on ‘Black to Techno,’ the Fourth Film in Collaboration with Frieze.” Gucci Podcast. February 15, 2019. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/gucci-podcast/id1378974511?mt=2&i=1000429938230

Clark-Brown, Tamar. “In Her Visions: Jenn Nkiru.” Protein Journal. December 7, 2017. https://www.proteinjournal.com/articles/in-her-visions-jenn-nkiru

Little, Harriet Fitch. “Film-Maker Jenn Nkiru’s Brain-Bending Vision.” Financial Times. February 7, 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/05d2648a-292f-11e9-9222-7024d72222bc#comments

Selected Reviews

Whaley, Natelegé “Meet Jenn Nkiru, Who Helped Direct Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Grandiose Visual for ‘Apeshit.’” Mic. June 18, 2018.  https://mic.com/articles/189858/meet-jenn-nkiru-who-helped-direct-beyonce-and-jay-zs-grandiose-visual-for-apeshit#.Zm1n8QzIx

Gotrich, Lars. “With Help From Four Tet And 3D, Neneh Cherry Wraps ‘Kong’ In A Cool And Weary Wisdom.” NPR. August 1, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/08/01/634301768/with-help-from-four-tet-and-3d-neneh-cherry-wraps-kong-in-a-cool-and-weary-wisdo

Okiti, Tega. “Inner Visions.” Sight & Sound, vol. 27, no. 6, (2017): 45–48.  EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ibh&AN=122874939&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Reed, Ryan. “Kamasi Washington Creates Rhythmic Trance in ‘Hub-Tones’ Video.” Rolling Stone. October 17, 2018. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/kamasi-washington-hub-tones-video-739211/

Benor, Dalya. “Meet the Director Behind Gucci’s Detroit Techno Documentary.” AnOther. March 13, 2019. https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/11590/jenn-nkiru-black-to-techno-gucci-documentary-detroit-music

Metrópolis February 19, 2019 Review of Rebirth is Necessary


Theoretical Contexts

Pan African Futurism 

Steinskog Erik. Afrofuturism and Black Sound Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Tarik, Latif A. “Travel Notes: Pan Africanism (Re)Visited: From Sankofa to Afrofuturism – Summary of the ‘2nd Kwame Nkrumah Pan-African Intellectual & Cultural Festival.’” Journal of Pan African Studies 12 (1): 537–59. 2018.

van Veen, tobias c, and Reynaldo Anderson. “Future Movements: Black Lives, Black Politics, Black Futures—an Introduction.” TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies  (2018): 5-21.

Gaines. Malik. Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible. New York: NYU Press, 2017.

Crawford, Margo Natalie. Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics. University of Illinois Press, 2017.

Marriot, David, ed. “Experimental Poetics,” special issue of The Black Scholar, 47 (2017).

Youngquist, Paul. A Pure Solar World: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016.

Cervera, Felipe. “Astroaesthetics: Performance and the Rise of Interplanetary Culture.” Theatre Research International 41, no. 3 (2016): 258-75.

Anderson, Reynaldo and Carles E. Jones, eds., Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-blackness Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015.

Chude-Sokei, Louis. The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics. Wesleyan University Press, 2015.

Marks, Laura U. “Monad, Database, Remix: Manners of Unfolding in the Last Angel of History.” Black Camera 6, no. 2 (2015): 112-34.

Teague, Jessica E. “Black Sonic Space and the Stereophonic Poetics of Amiri Baraka’s It’s Nation Time.” Sound Studies 1, no. 1 (2015): 22-39.

Terri Francis. “Introduction: The No-Theory Chant of Afrosurrealism.” Black Camera 5, no. 1 (2013): 95-112.

Davis, Angela Y. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Vintage, 2011.

Corbett, John. The Wisdom of Sun-Ra: Sun Ra’s Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets. WhiteWalls; 2006.

Eshun, Kodwo. “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 2 (2003): 287–302.

Alondra Nelson, “Introduction: Future Texts. Social Text 20 no. 2 (71) (2002): 1–15.

Eshun, Kodwo. More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction. London: Quartet Books, 1998.

Thompson, Robert Farris. Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. Random House, 1983.

See also: Jazz Aesthetic from Larry Clark’s Passing Through Bibliography.

See also: Terrence Nance’s section from the Holding Place, Taking Flight event research page.

 

Black Radical Aesthetics

Moten, Fred. Stolen Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.

Moten, Fred. The Universal Machine. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.

Moten, Fred. Black and Blur. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.

Michele Prettyman Beverly. “No Medicine for Melancholy: Cinema of Loss and Mourning in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter.” Black Camera 8, no. 2 (2017): 81-103.

Blue Black. Curated by Glenn Ligon. Pulitzer Art Foundation, Jun 9–Oct 7, 2017.

Iton, Richard. In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Ongiri, Amy Abugo. Spectacular Blackness: The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010.

English, Darby. How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness. Boston: MIT Press, 2007.

Moten, Fred. In the Break the Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Kelley, Robin. Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Beacon Press Book, 2002.

O’Dair, Barbara. “Heavenly creatures: the great gospel singers – Sister Rosetta Tharpe.” Trouble Girls: The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock. 1st ed., Random House, 1997.

Ellis, Trey. “The New Black Aesthetic.” Callaloo, no. 38. (Winter, 1989), pp. 233-243.

Fanon, Frantz. Toward the African Revolution: Political Essays.  New York: Grove Press, 1988.

Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983.

Taylor, Clyde. “New U.S. Black Cinema.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, no. 28, April 1983, pp. 46-48, 41.

Baraka, Amiri. It’s Nation Time. Chicago: Third World Press, 1970.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963.

See also: Our research page on The Black Audio Film Collective.

 

Black Feminist and Queer Thought

“British Council Film: Jenn Nkiru,” accessed March 19, 2019, http://film.britishcouncil.org/comment/spotlight/2018/jenn-nkiru.

Snorton, C. Riley. Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Murray, Derek Conrad. Queering Post-Black Art Artists Transforming African-American Identity after Civil Rights. I.B. Tauris, 2016.

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity. Duke University Press, 2016.

Cox, Aimee Meredith. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Duke University Press, 2015.

Nash, Jennifer. The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography. Duke University Press, 2014.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, 2012.

Holland, Sharon Patricia. The Erotic Life of Racism.  Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

Shange, Ntozake. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Simon and Schuster, 2010.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press, 2009. 

Omiseke Natasha Tinsley, “Black Atlantic Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage,” GLQ 14 (2-3), 2008.

Keeling, Kara. The Witch’s Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Ferguson, Roderick A. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2002.

bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics. Pluto Press, 2000.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentification: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Oyeronke Oyewumi, The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. The New Press, 1995.

Lorde, Audre. A Burst of Light: Essays. Firebrand Books, 1988.

Spillers, Hortense J. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987): 65-81.

High Tesfagiorgis, Frieda. (1987). Afrofemcentrism in the Art of Elizabeth Catlett and Faith Ringgold (a View of Women by Women). Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women 4, no. 1: 25-32 (Spring 1987). 

Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.

Hull, Gloria, Patricia Bell, and Barbara Smith. “All the Women Are White and All the Blacks Are Men.” But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies. Old Westbury, NY: Feminist Press, 1982.

hooks, bell. Ain’t I a Woman Black Women and Feminism.  Boston: South End Press, 1981.

 

Page compiled with contributions from Corey Couch, Jenny Gunn, Jazmine Hudson and John Roberts.