Niv Acosta is a transgender American dancer, choreographer and artist. His project Discotropic was featured in the Triennial at the New Museum in 2015. Acosta aims to address larger modern concepts through his work and his work revolves around race and performance.
Early life and education
Acosta was born in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, to a 15 year old single Black Dominican mother. He majored in dance at Washington Irving High School under the direction of Leslie Zema. In 2005 and 2006, he attended the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance as a scholarship student. After graduation, he began studying dance and choreography at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. In the summer holidays, Acosta attended American Dance Festival at Duke University, where he began to find his voice as a choreographer. Between 2009 and 2010, Acosta took a break from dance to discover himself, and came out as transgender, as he began to understand why it had felt hard to identify as a female dancer. Acosta began to choreograph again in 2010, and moved back to New York soon after.
During his years at the California Institute of the Arts, he choreographed two denzel pieces, which drew inspiration from Denzel Washington. After moving back to New York, he began working on a third one, denzel superstructure. In 2011, Acosta auditioned for Fresh Tracks at New York Live Arts and started working on another incarnation of denzel. He became a resident artist at New York Live Arts by the end of 2011, and presented his first draft of the 5th denzel piece, denzel mini petite b a t h t u b happymeal. This piece was later premiered at Brooklyn Arts Exchange in March 2012. During summer 2012, Acosta began developing the final incarnation of the denzel series – i shot denzel. He successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign for the world premiere of i shot denzel on January 30, 2014, and he later commented that “the exposure from the premiere skyrocketed his career in ways invaluable”.
For his piece Discotropic featured in the Triennial at the New Museum, Acosta was inspired by the made for TV film that appeared in 1978, Star Wars Holiday Special. During the making of the film, donors and actors demanded that a black person be cast in the film, so the network CBS cast Diahann Carroll to appear as a hologram. Inspired by this figure, Acosta lip-synced the words Carroll’s character, Mermeia, sang in the film. Speaking to Vice Magazine, Acosta says that through this reperformance of the piece, he explores sci-fi film with a “specific focus on Black American experience, and then how I see and rework that as a queer, trans-identified person in the contemporary world.”
niv Acosta and Fannie Sosa: Black Power Naps was created in 2018 for an exhibition at Matadero Madrid during Madrid Pride. It was remounted in 2019 for Performance Space New York, won a 2019 Creative Capital Award. The exhibition focused on the “Sleep Gap” between white and racialized people, whereby people of colour are statistically getting less sleep than white people. The artists created a venue of soft, luxurious, comfortable spaces where people of colour were invited to enjoy the rest that is often withheld as privilege. The piece was one of the first works to be covered by Performa Reports, a weekly performance art review from Performa. It was referenced as a conceptual influence on Solange’s 2019 album When I get Home.
In addition to the 2019 Creative Capital Award, Acosta is a 2017 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant awardee.
The denzel series was inspired by Denzel Washington. Acosta was interested in him as a black male actor in mainstream media, and saw him as radical and empowering. Acosta’s denzel provided context for his complex male identity.
In my perspective, Denzel is an archetype for black masculinity in media, and how that masculinity is perceived.— niv Acosta, niv Acosta’s World Premiere of “i shot denzel”
i have been identifying with the term “impossible bodies”. those words feel like they embody what i know is true for me and the people i like to work with. we have felt impossible outside of our safe environments. in the past i have involved my mother, 5 year old brother, my partner, close friends who are movers in a different world, and other artists of color. i feel the term “impossible bodies” is universal and is something everyone can relate to. with “possible bodies” fed to us as ideal, how do we make ourselves feel possible without compromising ourselves? drawing concepts of archetypes from film, musicals, songs, and choreography creates a base for me to begin identifying our self diagnosed impossibilities. from there i feel able to move towards ideas of myself/ourselves that feel empowering.— niv Acosta, artist statement