Artist Statement

© Kameelah Janan Rasheed, 2012 //  

Written over the past five months…


I experiment with both material and process in my exploration of memory, narrative, and evolving grammar of archival processing. I am intrigued by the processes of salvaging memories, reconstructing narratives from fragments, and creating public records. 

My artistic practice borrows from the literary tradition of poet Harryette Mullen. In the introduction of Harryette Mullen’sRecyclopedia: Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, and Muse & Drudge (2006), she writes,

[i]f the encyclopedia collects general knowledge, the recyclopedia salvages and finds imaginative uses for knowledge. That’s what poetry does when it remakes and renews words, images, and ideas, transforming surplus cultural information into something unexpected.

Likewise, my work seeks to make use of surplus cultural information to conjure up new narrative possibilities and to craft unexpected relationships between textual and visual data. Central to my artistic practice is the accumulation of disparate visual and textual data from estate sales, digitized portals, public libraries, and family collections. Using data ranging from excerpts of apocryphal texts to popular historical images to family wedding images, I work to create simple images that articulate endless permutations and possibilities. This work lives in the realm of the revelatory, rather than the didactic or polemic. While at times self-referential and hermetic, these pieces function as indexical links to larger personal and social histories and imagined spaces. I am interested in how seemingly disparate images and text create their own logic and grammar—an internal language that invites the audience into an intimate space. I seek to create pieces that allow the audience to engage in mental play with the work. 

I make use of documentary photography, rephotography, the repurposing of found/orphaned visual as well as textual data, collage, installation, and audio to (re)write histories. 


My artistic practice is simultaneously loyal to the traditions of an archivist, community educator, and local historian. Through my art, I am committed to recovering and preserving records of marginalized communities, creating greater access to archival information as well as developing sustainable pedagogical approaches to teaching archiving, research practices, and writing skills to disenfranchised communities within intergenerational spaces. 

My recent ritualized entry into book arts is fueled by an interest in books and other printed material as mediums for narrative interventions. 

What does is mean when there is democratic access to the tools to create books? What does it mean to install community-created books in symbolic public spaces as well as traditional library spaces? What does it mean to construct impromptu and mobile reading rooms full of community created texts? What does it mean for a library to acquire community created texts? What does it mean when grandmothers teach storytelling to youth who teach digital and paper bookmaking to grandmothers? What did it mean to me at 7 years old to have a publishing center at my school where I could go in select paper, the binding material, and typeface and publish over thirteen books before the age of 10? 

It meant everything.

Currently, I am exploring community arts models as well as typography, paper types, and book structure to experiment with paper-based sculptures that add physical and discursive volume to marginalized histories.