Nettrice R. Gaskins is an African American digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM fields. In her work, she explores “techno-vernacular creativity” and Afrofuturism.
Gaskins was born in Baltimore MD. At DuPont Manual High School Gaskins once painted a mural of parabolic functions in her math class and created computer art illustrating the connection of contemporary door-knocker earrings to traditional Ghanaian accessories. She was engaged, at even that early an age, with the intersection of art and science. That work led the way to her acceptance to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where she earned her BFA in 1992.
In 1994 she received her MFA in Art and Technology from School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After working for some years in K–12 and post-secondary education, community media and technology, Gaskins received a doctorate in Digital Media from Georgia Tech in 2014. Her thesis started with making the connections of graffiti and math.
In 2014 she became director of the STEAM Lab at Boston Art Academy which serves forty percent Black and forty percent Latino high-school students. As of 2018, Gaskins was a program manager at the Fab Foundation, a Boston-based nonprofit. In 2019, she had an artist-in-residence at MathTalk PBC and part of the Autodesk Technology Center Residency program on behalf of MathTalk.
Gaskins investigates humans versus nature, sound versus imagery. She wants people of color to be able to see themselves in computing and digital technology fields.She is known for her STEAM work, arguing that adding Art to the traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education will open more opportunities for students of color. She believes that STEM has always existed within groups that are not traditionally part of the mainstream discourse, and through the arts (like hip-hop, film, dance, theater, video games, and visual art) people may realize that these groups were always part of the conversation. She is inspired by the “entrepreneurial spirit,” as she calls it, as a way to progress, visible in such ingenious pioneers as Fred Eversley, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, George Clinton and Grandmaster Flash who adapted the currently used cross-fader from reclaimed electronics.
Her work creates spaces that respond to culture, within a culture, thus become a catalyst for change inside communities, instead of being in the control of others.
Dr. Gaskins’ digital installation, AR Virtual Sounding Space, using both physical computing and projection mapping, was the 2015 feature of Paseo Pop Up, a festival produced by Paseo Projects in Taos, New Mexico. It was a digital projection on the Luna Chapel at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site. The immersive projected piece was inspired by cosmograms, culturally-based maps of space and time like the medicine wheel. The public then could affect the piece through gloves that control the sound and color of the projection. As part of this engagement, she was one of a few artists with engagements in Electrofunk Mixtape: A Virtual Sounding Space, a workshop with local students. She performed Electrofunk Mixtape: Illuminus Edition with Hank Shocklee in Boston, MA as part of the Illuminus outdoor festival.
In 2019, Gaskins was part of a Leoni Art Project group show in Genoa, Italy. Her algorithmic, ‘neural network’ generated portrait of Wangari Muta Maathai was featured in Horticultural Heroes, an exhibit at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA.
In 2018 Gaskins was in the group exhibition, Probability & Uncertainty at Union College’s Mandeville Gallery in Schenectady, NY. “Afrofuturism Amplified in Three Dimensions” included a lecture and maker workshop. In the show, Gaskins was one of six women artists working with scientific themes. She also presented at the National Art Education Association in Seattle, WA, in Barcelona as part of STEAMConf 2018 and in Madrid as part of International Girls in ICT Day.
In 2017 Gaskins was in the group exhibition, We Have Always Lived in the Future at Flux Factory in Long Island City, NY. This show was mentioned in Art in America, specifically how her work “presents opportunities for rousing transcendence.”
In 2014 Gaskins spoke at a symposium called “Afrofuturism in Black Theology: Race, Gender, Sexuality and the State of Black Religion in the Black Metropolis” featuring George Clinton at Vanderbilt University. She spoke at a symposium called “Why Comix? Drawing the World You Want to See” about representation in comics at Northwestern University and on a panel called the Aesthetic Architecture Symposium titled “The Aesthetics of Activism: Afro-Futurism, Xenofeminism, and Disobedient Objects” at Yale University in 2016.
Gaskins is also known for her cultural criticism, including the unpacking of Beyonce’s Formation video at the intersection of contemporary police killings of black boys and the story of traditional voodoo spirit, Ghede Nibo.