Profile: damali ayo (1972-)

damali ayo is an American conceptual artist, performance artist, and author. She created conceptual art from 1997-2017. She is of African-American, English, Italian, and Native American descent. She prefers her name in lower case. Her art used a range of mediums, including assemblage, collage, installation, audio, video, photography, new genres, writing, speaking, and performance.

Early life

damali ayo was born Damali Ayo Patterson, February 26, 1972 in Washington, D.C. where she attended Sidwell Friends School from kindergarten through high school. She legally dropped her last name in 1995.

Ayo earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1990 from Brown University with a double concentration in Public Policy and American Civilization. Ayo moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1997. After establishing her career as a self-taught artist, she was invited to apply to Portland State University and earned a Master of Fine Arts in studio art in 2006.

Visual and performance art

Ayo created work in the tradition of conceptual art. Her work displayed influences from artists such as Adrian Piper, Yoko Ono, On Kawara, and William Pope.L. She used a wide range of media and her work was frequently interactive. Her work utilized assemblage, collage, photography, installation, audio, video, new genres, writing, speaking, and performance. Ayo’s art explored a variety of topics from love, to politics, to song lyrics. Her work often engaged social issues, ranging from race relations, to gender, to sexual assault, issues of existence, emotion, mortality, and invisibility.

Her 2003 web-art-performance, rent-a-negro.com is considered a pioneering work in the development of the genre of internet art and performance art. It received over 400,000 hits per day in its first month, and garnered global media attention. The piece was a satirical web site that examines racism in the interactions between black and white people. The site employed parody and satire to engage the viewer in an artificial premise that one could rent a black person for their personal entertainment or to advance their social clout. The site remained online until 2012.

Her 2000 show The Little Black Dress Project and accompanying performance Take it Off explored the notion of the reality of women’s lives juxtaposed with the wardrobe of fashion conformity.

American/Girl was a post-9/11 stage performance exploration of patriotism, alienation, and belonging. Performed in Portland, Boulder, Syracuse, and at the 2004 International Geographic festival at Galerie SAW in Ottawa, Canada.

Her collaborative Flesh Tone #1: Skinned project where she visited various paint stores and asked them to mix paint to match various parts of her body won Second Prize Jurors’ Award, Center on Contemporary Art in 2002. The accompanying radio piece based on the recordings of her interactions with the paint mixers aired on Public Radio International’s Studio 360 in 2003.

In 2007 Ayo created an interactive guidebook titled You Can Fix Racism by asking the members of her email list for their top ten solutions to improve race relations. She created a lecture-performance to spread the solutions to communities nationwide.

Her 2004-10 street performance Living Flag: Panhandling for Reparations collected money from white passersby and paid those funds to black passersby. She performed the piece in Portland, Chicago, Boston, and New York. In 2006 ayo created an online kit that anyone could download and do the performance in their own community. Several hundred people participated across the country.

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