Kameelah Janan Rasheed is a Brooklyn-based artist, educator, and writer working in installation, photography, printmaking, publications, and performance. She is on the faculty of the MFA Fine Arts program at the School of Visual Arts, and works full-time as a curriculum developer for New York public schools. She previously spoke to The Creative Independent about research and archiving.
Do you ever deal with creative blocks? If so, do you have techniques for overcoming them?
I think I experience whatever the opposite of a creative block is. I am often sitting with dozens of projects I want to execute and limited time. As such, I think I am trying to figure out how to create more routines and systems to categorize my interests and desired projects. Right now, that looks like the large sheet of butcher paper in our living room that describes the relationships between a few projects and some of the heavy lifting I need to do now so that these projects can be more seamlessly executed in the future.
What do you consider failure and how can you find success in it?
I think we are all operating along a spectrum and each project or idea articulation shifts our proximity to the thing we think we are trying to achieve. I am interested in how we construct instances of failure and success and striving toward a thing because I think the ways that we perceive them and have been conditioned to perceive them shapes an artist’s willingness to take risks and experiment. Sometimes I feel close to what I want to make, but that “what I want to make” is still a moving target. For now, I am just coursing along and being intuitive—taking on opportunities that allow me to flex a new muscle and being meticulous in my reflection about each of these experiences.
How do you avoid burnout?
Unfortunately, I have not been able to avoid it. I feel like the question I am often answering is how do you come back from a burnout; always reactionary and rarely preventative. I am gently easing out of a recent episode of burnout where I was giving talks every three weeks, adjuncting, working a full-time non-profit job, and installing about eight shows back to back in Europe and the United States, while also settling into a newly married life.
I know that as I enter this next cycle of shows and projects that I need to be more rigorous about my spiritual practice, one that schedules in five daily prayers which among other things are mercies that allow me to slow down for reflection, rather than forging into action without reflection time. Beyond that, I am just saying “no,” demanding equitable fees for my labor, and better integrating my workflow so that I am doing many different things within one clearly defined project rather than many disparate things across different projects.
Is it difficult focusing on creative projects when it feels like the world is falling apart? How do you keep going?
For some of us, the world has always been falling apart and art still makes it out into the world.
One of my favorite creative works, Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” was written in response to the killing of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four black girls. I read this article on Longreads where the author historicizing protest songs recounts Nina composing the song in an hour and her assertion that the song “erupted out of me quicker than I could write it down.”
As more news pours in about mounting tragedy and seemingly incomprehensible acts, my creative work doesn’t so much become a place to directly respond to the events or pose solutions; rather, it becomes a place for me to think publicly about how I am processing and narrating these moments. In that way, the art, the projects, become necessary for my individual processing and hopefully adds something to a textured conversation that is attempting to contextualizing these points in history.