In Conversation

The Black Embodiments Studio: Fast, Loose and Immediate Writing

Experimentation and exchange are the focus at Kemi Adeyemi’s arts writing incubator in Seattle.

Journal - A Year In Black Art, Issue V. Courtesy of BES.

Journal - A Year In Black Art, Issue V. Courtesy of BES.

ContemporaryAnd: When did you launch the arts writing incubator and what led you to it?

Kemi Adeyemi: In 2017 I started the Black Embodiments Studio in Seattle, where I wanted to cultivate a conversation around Black arts and create connections with the various art scenes here. I had institutional resources that I wanted to redistribute, so I developed, pitched, and launched BES. Today the studio has become a key programming arm of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery at the University of Washington. The arts writing incubator was always the core initiative of BES, and it initially was open to University of Washington graduate students who needed to round out their training with other modes of thinking and writing. Through the pandemic, I have been able to open up that incubator to anybody with a Zoom connection.

BES Zoom Meeting with Azikiwe Mohammed and Stephany R. Watts in conversation. Courtesy of BES.

C&: Can you tell us about the public programming aspect of BES?

KA: Inviting Black artists, writers, and curators to Seattle to give talks about their practice is the second major element of BES. Of course, the pandemic interrupted that style of IRL convening and in the last couple of years I have tried to think about other ways of generating public events that are not taxing or draining for my guests. So there have been a variety of points of encounter, from recorded talks to mail art projects to direct collaborations between Black artists and arts writers that may never result in something “public.” Folks who are invited into the BES world do meet with participants in the arts writing incubator to talk about their relationships to Black art and art writing.

At one level I just want people to meet and be in conversation with one another, and on another level I want emerging arts writers to think about the craft as facilitating a kind of ethical relationship with artists. To think that their writing can be of great consequence. So it’s important to have low-pressure moments of encounter with people who you might write about, or people who might one day read your writing or people for whom writing simply has an impact on their lives and the lives of their communities.

C&: What is this year’s arts writing cohort like?

KA: Each cohort of the arts writing incubator is crafted intentionally. People have to apply to the program – not because they will be sorted into “better” or “worse” candidates, but because I want to create cohorts that have a balanced mix of experiences. This year’s is comprised of people who have different experiences with academic and arts institutions; people who have no experience with arts writing and very experienced people; and people who are artists themselves and people who are not.

Black Embodiment Studios meets with Artist Shawné Michaelain Holloway. Courtesy the BES.

C&: The current cohort’s keywords are “network,” “continuum,” and “balance.” Are these intended to resonate with a larger audience?

KA: Those keywords are just recaps of our first incubator session. I’m trying to do short recaps of our sessions because I want to make what happens in them accessible to people who are not there. We are operating in a kind of exclusive space because you have to apply to get in and there are limited spots, but the kinds of conversations that we’re having are not exclusive, they are not specialized to the extent that non-participants cannot or should not have access to them. So I’m giving brief and breezy accounts of some highlights for social media passersby to maybe get some sense of what thinking on Black art and Black arts writing might result in.

C&: Do you set the tone and style for the texts that get published each year?

KA: People who come through the Incubator can submit their writing to be published in our annual journal, A Year in Black Art. They can write whatever they want. And their work is only lightly edited. I am not invested in overly streamlined, hyper-technical, edited-to-death arts writing. I like arts writing that feels fast, loose, and immediate, like hearing the writer speak. So I am on hand if folks want to talk through their writing, and we create space for that in the incubator. But I am not ever going to set the tone or style for them – apart from reminding them that capturing their own voice, finding the language that feels true to them, is the most important thing a writer can do.

C&: What direction do you see Black arts writing heading in over the next year or so?

KA: I’m not sure I can say what direction I see Black arts writing going in but I can certainly say that there is a lot of handwringing about the state of arts writing in general. And we are right to feel nervous about what it will mean for the art worlds that we circulate in if there is no support for writers whose work helps facilitate conversations around artists, works, exhibitions, and institutions – all these elements that make up “the art world.” I think people recognize the power of arts writing and of individual writers, but that does not mean that they are willing to build structures that pay arts writers adequately and provide them with editors who are skilled critical thinkers. And we are not always building structures where arts writers are trained to speak to multiple audiences. So I hope a program like BES is valuable because it’s saying: “Look, it’s really not that complicated: just give people time and space to learn this skill and help build avenues where they can redeploy these skills in other domains.”

As its next stage of growth the Black Embodiments Studio strives for two things: extending the learning happening within the arts writing incubator through ongoing mentoring and teaching, and granting financial aid for Black arts writing to eliminate the stress of needing to solely work for a living or to pay the bills.


The Black Embodiments Studio is directed by Dr. Kemi Adeyemi, Associate Professor of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington. Her book Feels Right: Black Queer Women and the Politics of Partying in Chicago is out with Duke University Press and her co-edited volume, Queer Nightlife was published by University of Michigan Press in May 2021. Her recent writing has appeared in in journals like GLQ and Women & Performance, and in the edited volumes Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Routledge Companion to African American Art History.


Tash Moore is a bicoastal Detroit booster, social entrepreneur, and activist who is deeply passionate about promoting diversity & inclusion. 





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