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  • Writer's pictureKara Mshinda

Taking Up Space-in-Residence

From February 10 to February 24 I had the unique opportunity of participating in an artist residency curated by Wit López . The residency, Taking Up Space (TUS), was held at the Icebox Project Space in the Crane Arts Building.

The purpose of the residency was to provide space for LGBTQ artists of color to create art. There were an array of artists who participated. Illustrations, paintings, installation artwork, poetry, dance, spoken word performance were just some examples of the work that artists were developing during the residency.

TUS marked a few firsts in my art career. It was my first residency experience. It was the first time I worked alongside other artists of color who identify as LGBTQ. I also constructed my first installation artwork, My Country

My Country is an art project that is rooted in my past and my present. It is a meditation on my reconciliation with American history. It is also a collection of collages and found objects all of which cite the tensions and emotions of identity, namely, a Blaq (a Black and Queer) American identity, my identity. 

Similar to others in this world I perform a multitude of roles. I am a sister, daughter, aunt, parent, spouse, and former academic. I am a Christian married to a Muslim. I am American and I am Other. I also belong to a family in which many have served in the United States Armed Forces. I was raised with a certain type of patriotism that I am still trying to name and understand. 

To express this plurality in my identity I used a variety of materials in assembling this work. Many of these objects and materials are items that you may find in someone’s home; for example, a newspaper, tape, a clock, books, a TV tray. 

Other items and materials, such as denim, cowrie shell, paint colors, and metal signs, are intentional and hold specific meanings for me. Denim represents a trope of “all-Americanness.” For my purposes, I use denim to express the “rough,” “rugged,” and “rebellious,” virtues of an imagined American persona. 

Cowrie, a marine mollusk that was once used as a currency in Africa and the Indo-Pacific, symbolizes my African heritage. I used cowrie shells in many of the assembled pieces to also express the cultural wealth of the African diaspora and the enduring tragedy of human trafficking and enslavement. For me, cowrie represents survival.

With regard to color and color patterns, in general, I use red, white, and blue to reference Westernization, black symbolizes the genesis of a New World. Red, in particular, represents violence and vitality. I have applied red paint in certain ways to resemble blood and to juxtapose images of people that appear throughout the panels of newspaper or on the metal signs. 

A final element to this installation artwork is a human element. Performing artist Sakinah Scott is seated in an armchair that is positioned between both panels. Her presence serves as an anchor to a living space where identities are embodied. In other words, Scott illustrates, in her form and actions, the experience of one’s identity. 

Sakinah Scott. Installation artwork by Kara Mshinda

This residency provided me with the space and inspiration to bring several different pieces of artwork together to form a visual dialogue about identity. It has also offered me new relationships with other artists and gallery spaces in Philadelphia. Networking, forming new bonds with others, and strengthening current friendships has been the greatest gift above all else. 

To find information about my upcoming events and activities please visit and 

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