9/21/23: Research grantee presentations!


2023 Grantees

2023 Wherewithal Research Presentations: Thursday, September 21, 7–9pm, Zoom (RSVP here)

Niki Afsar

Shab-e-Shehr: A Night of Gathering

“Shab-e-shehr” translates from Farsi to “night of poetry,” and references informal gatherings to share and discuss poetry, stories, conversations, and music. The four gatherings, which will take place once a month during the last four months of the year, ending on the holiday Shab-e-Yalda, will invite Iranian and diasporic artists to share their work, and will include an open portion for anyone attending to share poetry, music, and thoughts on how to continue solidarity with the current revolution in Iran. At this critical moment in Iranian history, these gatherings will offer a decentralized space for members of diasporic communities to find one another, share art and knowledge, and imagine shared futures together.

Niki Afsar is a nonbinary/femme, Iranian-American interdisciplinary artist living and working in the DC area. Born in Los Angeles to Tehran-born parents and learning to speak Farsi in their mid-20s, their work explores expressions of fluidity and longing within language, hybrid/myriad identities, and mental health. Drawing influences from personal, familial, and cultural histories steeped in poetry and paradox, they experiment with a number of mediums including devised movement and performance, poetry and text, live singing and sound making, and mirror work. They are currently an artist at Red Dirt Studio and have performed at Rhizome and the Pie Shop in DC.

Ama BE

Ngo {Palm Oil}

This trans-disciplinary archival project interrogates unseen, voluntary, land-based African labor that helped feed migrated families and preserve cultural practices on foreign soil. Centered around African migrations to the DC Metro area between 1960–1990, Ngo {Palm Oil} aims to collect nuanced narratives around performances of black labor, sacred land stewardship, and redress absences of African migrants from the landscape of contemporary Africainity and futurist discourses. Fundamentally, this research asks: “How can oral histories of migrant African labor lend themselves to the development of new frameworks for Africanfuturist performance?”

Ama BE is a Ghanaian American, transdisciplinary artist exploring African relationships to land, labor, and migration. Working largely with botanical materials that carry antithetical ties to hegemonic trade, violent labor migrations, spirituality, and holistic remedy. Her work probes at the porous spaces between time, materiality, sentience, and memory to propose nuanced encounters and open suggestive space for performing and embodying Africanfuturity.

Safiyah Cheatam & Hope Willis

Kufis and Pepperoni Pizza

Kufis and Pepperoni Pizza is a multimedia oral history project that seeks to answer the question, “What influences drove a significant portion of DC’s Black youth to practice Islam and identify as Muslims from 2008–2012?” Through this seemingly simple question, they aim to explore Islam’s relationship to Blackness within an American context. Through their multifaceted and intergenerational cultural preservation work, this research will serve as both a testament and an homage to the evolution of Black folks’ expression of Islam. During the 2023 grant period Kufis will be shared with the public through a powerful audio-visual immersive exhibit and a digital archive.

Safiyah Cheatam is a visual artist, researcher, storyteller, arts educator, and administrator. She focuses on material culture and social phenomena involving Black Muslims in the United States, and the role of Afrofuturism in Black folks’ daily lives. She co-produces the podcast OBSIDIAN and is a recipient of the Red Bull Arts Microgrant and Rubys Artist Grant from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. Safiyah was a 2021 VisArts Bresler resident artist and has collaborated with the Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum, Morgan State University’s Center for the Study of Religion in the City, Black Islam Syllabus, and Rap Research Lab. Hope Willis is an artist, art worker, researcher, and fourth generation Washingtonian. Her practice finds form through a wide range of creative outlets—from carpentry and archiving oral histories, to screenprinting and DJing—each of these connected through her overarching aim to serve the communities she is akin to. Living in the wake of rampant gentrification, Willis approaches the necessary work of cultural preservation and resource distribution with a careful urgency and keen understanding of the personal as political.

Alina Collins Maldonado

Mother, May I?

Alina’s research focuses on the traditions and expectations passed down from mothers to their daughters and how those same traditions and expectations define who they are. Through conducting interviews and community workshops with women in the DC area, Alina seeks to answer questions about the traditions we choose to pass on and which ones we choose to leave behind. 

Alina Collins Maldonado is a multidisciplinary artist and theater educator. Her work focuses on collecting authentic stories through interviews and community workshops to uncover the unexpected threads of connection between us to understand our individual and collective identities better. Original works include the play What to Expect When You’re La Virgen, developed under the Clarice Smith Artist Residency Program, and the short film, No Salgas Con El Pelo Mojado. As an actor, she has performed at the Lincoln Center, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, among others. As a theater educator, she has developed programs and workshops to guide artists in creating and producing their own original works. Alina holds a BA from Virginia Commonwealth University in Theater and in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. 

Andy Johnson

Who Cares for Artists? A Field Guide of Artistic Survival

Andy’s research is propelled by the question of how artists and creatives sustain challenging practices, ones that require mental, emotional, psychological, and physical agility. His research explores the role of care and repair as it pertains to the integrity of the artist themself, rather than the representation of care in objects or exhibitions. Artists carry the weight of complex and difficult subject matter that demands and depletes. They are challenged to remain whole as they alchemize and distill their relationship to gender identity and expression, class, sexuality, race and ethnicity, and immigration status. Thus, Andy asks: “if artists are tasked with caring for the world, who takes care of artists?”

Andy Johnson is a DC-based arts writer, editor, designer, and art historian. He is currently Senior Admin for George Washington’s Department of American Studies, contributing editor for Dirt., and adjunct faculty in Art History at Georgetown University, teaching courses on queer art, photography, and visual culture. He previously served as Director of Gallery 102 at the Corcoran School, and editor/creative director of Archeion: Journal of Queer Archives, published by the Stonewall National Museum & Archives. Johnson holds a BA and MA in Art History from GW.

Cecilia Kim

Humanizing Invisible Labor

This project aims to humanize the production of invisible transnational labor. To trace the labor of “productive” industries such as mass-manufacturing plants for consumer goods, Cecilia will connect with individual workers and their communities in the larger social fabric. Using documentary film to expand social impact and accessibility, the film will serve as a record of invisible labor and channel for unrepresented voices. Her research will involve field visits to these sites of labor to explore the narrative potential of sound, and converse with geologists, factory workers, representatives, and museum archivists. 

Cecilia Kim is a South Korean video artist, living and working in DC. Kim’s video work is shaped by conversational exchanges as she traverses spaces as a transnational woman, and focuses on labor and language through intimate narratives. Kim was awarded the 19th Trawick Prize, and her work has been shown in solo and group shows including at the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington Biennial, Kaplan Gallery, Hamiltonian Gallery, 0 Gallery, and The Anderson Gallery. She has been a resident at Ox-Bow Artists' School of Art and Artists' Residency, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Corsicana Artist and Writer Residency, and VisArts Bresler Residency, and is a 2021-23 Hamiltonian Artists Fellow. Kim received an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Stephanie Mercedes

Never in Our Image

This research project focuses on how pitches and tones can be pulled from the sound of weapons being destroyed and transformed. 

Stephanie Mercedes is an uncategorized queer Latinx artist who choreographs large scale performances and installations based in sound. Mercedes transforms weapons into musical installations and works of art. She also excavates missing violent histories. Mercedes has exhibited and performed at the Bronx Museum, the Queens Museum, the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center and the National Gallery of Art. She has been funded by George Soro's Open Society Foundation, Light Works, NALAC, The Foundation for Contemporary Art, WPA, The DC Commission for the Arts, the GLB Memorial Foundation, the Warhol Foundation, and the Clarvit Fellowship. Mercedes has been an artist in residence at: VisArts, Halcyon Art Labs, the Bronx Museum, Montgomery College, Christopher Newport University, SOMA, Lugar a Dudas, Largo das Artes and La Ira de Dios. Mercedes is producing an Opera with CulturalDC in 2022-23.

Neha Misra & Fid Thompson

Nature of Us 

This is a collaborative eco-art project germinated by transatlantic artists Neha Misra and Fid Thompson who have made the Washington metro region their adopted home. The project asks: What plant-tree-human love stories insist on persisting amongst the trials and triumphs of our urban lives? How can reconnecting with nature heal us? What role can art play in this? The project gathers and celebrates multi-sensory love stories spanning indigenous, migratory plants, weeds, trees, and people with diverse roots in urban landscapes.

Neha Misra is a first generation Indian American contemporary eco-folk visual artist,  poet, and an award winning climate justice advocate. Her Earth wisdom-centered multidisciplinary studio uses the power of art to build bridges between private, collective, and planetary healing. In 2021, Neha was recognized as a Regenerative Artivist by Design Science Studio—an initiative of the Buckminster Fuller Institute and habRitual for world’s leading planet conscious artists. Neha is a 2022 Public Voices Fellow on the Climate Crisis with the OpEd Project and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Fid Thompson works across and within genres and media: researcher, visual artist, gardener, wonderer, queer white human who grew up in rural England. Her storytelling and art is informed by her bi-cultural family and the humans, cultures, creatures, plants, and landscapes of the places where she has lived. Her work inquires into inner worlds and weathers, nature, mental health cycles, and portraiture. Fid has twice been a recipient of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ Artist Fellowship, including for her Queer Enough portrait project. 

Athena Naylor


Athena is investigating the life of her late yiayia (grandmother). Orphaned at a young age in Bursa, Turkey at the turn of the 20th century, her yiayia did not know her own birthday, nor was she very open about her early years. By researching her life, Athena will interrogate how family histories are passed down generationally and how personal identities form from these fragmented, inherited stories. How can we describe the life of someone no longer able to recount it themselves, and what is lost and gained in the process of doing so? What does telling someone else’s story reveal about how we relate to ourselves?

Athena Naylor is a cartoonist and writer interested in how big stories reside in small, mundane moments. Her autobiographical comics have been featured in The Washington Post and Nat. Brut. In 2021 she received an Honorable Mention for the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE) Cupcake Award. She currently lives and works in DC.

Anisa Olufemi & Jada-Amina

The Gospel Truth: Sonic Architectures of Chicago House and Go-Go Music 

Using The Black Church as a theoretical reference point, The Gospel Truth (TGT) seeks to render Chicago House and Go-Go Music as sonic architectures built in the tradition of transatlantic spirit work. This research aims to uncover the ways in which these sounds engender spiritual restoration, spacemaking, and futurity for Black communities in DC and Chicago. Operating within a feeling-focused line of inquiry, Anisa Olufemi and Jada-Amina are guided by three interrelated questions: "What modes of Black kinship, revival, and belonging do these genres cultivate? How does the Black Ecstatic (both visceral and visible) arise at The Go-Go and The Warehouse? As these sounds encode the collective memories of under-siege communities, what liberation legacies live on?"

Anisa Olufemi is a Black American curator and writer of Afro-Trinidadian descent. Jada-Amina is a South Side Chicago born and based, Black Indigenous American interdisciplinary artist-scholar. Both descendants of the Transatlantic and church-going, faith-having people, cultural workers Anisa and Jada-Amina recognize praise spaces as invaluable sites of intergenerational survival. Bearing witness to Chocolate Cities as genealogical locuses for Great Migration cultural production, together they contemplate the dance floor as an oasis—traversing sound as a site of communion.

Mojdeh Rezaeipour

۱۴۰۱ Archives: an Incomplete Visual History of a Feminist Revolution

With social media as her primary source, Mojdeh has been collecting and organizing a growing archive of imagery from the ongoing Jin, Jîyan, Azadî / Woman Life Freedom revolution in Iran.  Over the past few months, she has been working on a series of 80+ panels of mixed media works based on these images, depicting everyday acts of resistance, expressions of solidarity, and rituals of collective care at varying scales.  The project will bring this series together with stories and writing by a group of multigenerational Iranian artists, thinkers and historians toward a collaborative publication.

Mojdeh Rezaeipour is an Iranian-born artist whose interdisciplinary practice bridges her varied backgrounds as an architect, storyteller, and community organizer.  She has exhibited nationally and internationally in a wide range of venues, from DIY project spaces in Berlin to museums such as The Phillips Collection. Mojdeh is currently based in DC, where she is an Artist-in-Residence at Henry Luce III Center for the Arts & Religion.

The Shmutzik Shmates

The Memories of Letters

This project explores the memories of Jewish letters through the creative imaginings of this collective—a queer, Yiddish burlesque troupe—and a group of artist collaborators throughout the Jewish diaspora. The evolution of Jewish letters and the many languages they came to embody tells a story of diaspora and cultural exchange that destabilizes Zionist narratives of ethno-nationalism and Jewish separatism. Collective members will each personify a Jewish letter and its histories to create a body of writing, performance, and visual art that engages in the act of remembering as a grounding for building other possible futures.

The Shmutzik Shmates are a queer, Yiddish burlesque troupe made up of Brenda Roses (Yael Horowitz), Bikher Dik (Etai Rogers-Fett), and Kasha Varnishkes (Scotty Brown). The Shmates have from the start understood their work as a socially engaged practice of worldbuilding, or imagining Olam Ha-Ba, the world to come. Their collective was born out of benkshaft (longing) to explore the intersection of their eroticism, gender/sexuality and ancestry, both its beauty and its unhealed trauma. They longed to create space where their queer, trans, diasporic selves could also be Yiddish and spiritual and carry on their people's legacies. We found each other through DC activist spaces for Palestine solidarity and a shared belief that powerfully tapping into our own Ashkenazic lineage as queer and trans Jewish artists could energize, fund, and ground some of our organizing work for collective liberation. Each of our three collective members brings a unique background in socially engaged artistic practice to this work: in archival curation, poetry, printmaking, facilitation, and immersive art experiences.

2022 Grantees

Rasha Abdulhadi

Queering tatreez

Rasha's research focuses on the question, “How can tatreez, traditional Palestinian embroidery, be queered, and how can that queering re-engage this indigenous art form as a practice of communal creativity and pre-literate communication?”

Monica Jahan Bose

Mukhe Mukhe/Mouth-to-Mouth

Monica researches the intangible heritage of songs, poetry, and food in DC and Bangladesh, to reframe the story of climate injustice in these two communities.

Safiyah Cheatam & Hope Willis

Kufis and Pepperoni Pizza

A multimedia oral history project seeking to answer the question, “What influences drove a significant portion of DC’s Black youth to practice Islam and identify as Muslims from 2008–2012?”

Fabiola Ching & Mayah Lovell

dyke’s day, a holigay

dyke’s day, a holigay is a multimedia and multisensory publication about a surrealist holiday for lesbians. Writers and artists worked together to write and visualize a continuation of an existing manuscript by Mayah, resulting in a 25-30 page body of work exploring what a holiday for lesbians can look, sound, feel, taste, and smell like. dyke’s day incorporates poetry, lyricism, fiction, research, sculpture, photography, and sound to iterate an ecology of enjoyment for lesbians.

Larry Cook

Expanding the Archive

Larry researches the aesthetics of prison and club photography, and their relationship to the photographic archive. He believes it is essential to preserve this history and recognize its contribution to contemporary society. Through this research, he hopes to elevate these forms of image-making. This grant supported him in the development of an archive of club vernacular photography that can serve as source material for his practice, and research materials for other scholars and artists interested in exploring this aesthetic.

Ayana Zaire Cotton

Seeda School

Seeda School speculates: what is a pedagogical Black aesthetic? Grounded in an obsession with the immaterial generativity of Black study, Seeda School is a conceptual education platform rooted in worldbuilding. This experimental pedagogical project explores the Black feminist legacy of teaching and leverages online course frameworks, video, and the aesthetic of speculative fiction to help participants imagine new worlds.

Deirdre Darden

Colored exits: the act of liberating oneself from harm

Darden’s research explores the idea and the history of the act of liberating oneself from harm; a concept she refers to as a “colored exit.” The colored exit has deep roots driven by the question: “what does freedom mean to you? (No fear!)”

Rex Delafkaran

TRANSLATIONS: A research into identity, language, and embodiment

Archival forms and transdisciplinary languages are central to Rex's research, centering questions that include: what can a physical archive of experience look like? In what ways do we translate our personal and historical archives into our bodies, and how do these haptic translations deepen and hybridize existing knowledge?


Labor of Love: And Other Lies We're Sold

Dirt commissions original research and content from established writers and organizers who are working to explore, expand, and expose topics of labor, equity, and socio-political justice within the arts. Seeking to present a broad range of perspectives, the content and collaborations are not be limited by geography, but rather embrace the overlaps, exchanges, and edges of like-minded thinkers that align with our core belief — that arts writing should be easily accessible; and that artists and arts workers are integral to the evolution of culture and society. 

Extraordinary Artists International

A Roadmap to the O-1 Visa 

This project is a guidebook for first time O-1 applicants. It takes the position that these immigration processes are unjust obstructions to living and working in the US that have significant structural and individual consequences, and aims to cultivate a solidarity network among visa seekers, aspiring allies, and supportive cultural institutions in the US.

Imogen-Blue Hinojosa

Cathedral of Cloth

Imogen-Blue engages the general public in the discourses surrounding trans rights, including sex workers, trauma, and the need for social reform to protect trans women of color. This new series utilizes film and textiles as a means to draw parallels between epic poetry and non-fictional epics, and the histories and stories which exist in her community.

Armando Lopez-Bircann

Cy-Fae: Queer EcoFeminist Futures in Extended Reality

Armando’s research focuses on how artists can nurture queer ecofeminist thought through emerging Extended Reality (XR) artwork and social technologies. It explores how the artist/activist, or “artivist,” can use affect and glamor to communicate a compelling, optimistic vision of the future.

2021 Grantees

Monsieur Zohore

Ghost Stories

Monsieur Zohore uses research as a means of resurrecting performances that have gone forgotten as a result of the circumstances they were made in. Their research focuses on the following questions: What works haunt the specter of performance art? How can they resurrect them into our present? How can they use the resurrection of historical works to help resurrect performance art in the post-pandemic world?

Jessica Valoris 

Black Fugitive Folklore


Jessica explores the histories of Black fugitivity, flight, and petit marronage (ways in which enslaved Africans subverted the plantation and captivity through truancy, gatherings, harboring fugitives, creating networks of complicity, and other practices), and how these histories can inform current movements for liberation. She uncovers how small acts of freedom actualize larger movements for liberation, and how Black people carry the lineage of petit marronage.

Asha Santee 


Asha researches how galactic escapism—an outer space reverie and sonic frequency—in interaction with racial trauma, can offer healing for the Black community. Realized in collaboration with Black therapists and healers, musicians, and comic artists, Asha’s research is driven by the question, “At what frequencies do Black people experience healing?”

Mojdeh Rezaeipour 

Mapping Fragments 

Mojdeh's research focuses on a collection of ancient fragments of pottery that originate from over thirty sites located across the Middle East. This inquiry is the beginning of a much more expansive body of research, as well as a first step, perhaps, of a collectively imagined work.

MJ Neuberger & Susan Main

Meeting Ground

In a time of ongoing environmental, social, racial, and economic inequity, as well as limited physical human connection, can touching the ground recenter attention, help us overcome trauma, and change the way we perceive the world around us? If so, how? MJ and Susan use their research to create a theoretical, practical, political, and aesthetic base for future projects to grow a community of participants and researchers.

Michelle Lisa Herman

Up to Code? Where ableism meets patriarchy in art and technology

As a woman artist with disabilities working in and with technology, Michelle researches the intersection of feminism, technology, art, and disability. Specifically, she looks at the relationships between ableism and patriarchy and the ways in which assumed defaults, when mediated through technology, continue to perpetuate assumptions that disenfranchise all. Her collaboration will include other women-identifying artists and artists with disabilities, and researchers who study gender inequity in the tech industry.

Curry Hackett


Curry researches "Black landscapes”—exploring the socio-ecological relationships that Black folks foster and maintain within urban environments. His research is based on the assumption that these relationships exist, or can be envisioned, in spite of pervasive neo-colonial attitudes.

Jeremiah Edwards & Jeremiah Long


With the goal of developing curriculum, the two Jeremiahs evaluate the impact of place-based education on local youth in DC’s Black community. They work in pursuit of answers to a central question: Can a holistic understanding of one’s relationship to a place instill political urgency, social awareness, and the will to uplift one’s community? 

Sobia Ahmad

Memory is a Homeland

Sobia explores how textiles and traditional crafts preserve cultural memory and ancestral knowledge, specifically that of immigrant and indigenous communities.

janet e. dandridge

Inquiries on Release and Other Paths to Liberty

janet's research centers on Post/Present-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD) driven by the question: How can memory, dreams, asylum, and catharsis contribute to holistic healing for individuals who’ve experienced and continue to experience trauma throughout their lives? This research specifically pertains to societal trauma perpetuated by racism and misogyny, and in particular, the PPTSD of Black women and girls.

Ayana Zaire Cotton

Crafting Care: The Poetics of Design, Computation, and Abolition

Ayana researches the relationships between abolitionist technologies and aesthetics to understand how they might help us imagine a liberated future. This involves the study of Indigenous African objects and textiles, and how the fractals in their designs might be used to reorganize our physical world using computing and code.

CONTROL-ALT-DELETE  (Dawne Langford, Dafna Steinberg, and Alex Tyson)

A Series of Interventions in the Gendered Digital Space

This newly formed collective builds visual language analyzing cyberpsychology, machine learning technology, and popular internet culture. During the grant period, they trained artificial intelligence (using machine learning) to explore gender inequality, performative reconciliation, and define nuances of tone inherent in built-in structures, both online and off.