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Ekene Ijeoma Joins the MIT Media Lab

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Ekene Ijeoma

Kris Graves

New media arts and sciences faculty member merges social justice with design, architecture, music, performance, and technology. 

In January 2019, artist Ekene Ijeoma will join the MIT Media Lab as an assistant professor, founding and directing the Poetic Justice research group. Ijeoma works at the intersections of design, architecture, music, performance, and technology, creating multi-sensory artworks from personal experiences, social issues, and data studies. His work explores topics and issues ranging from refugee migration to mass incarceration. At its most basic level, the work aspires to embody our human conditions, expand people's thoughts, and engage them in imagining change and acting on it.

At the Lab, Ijeoma will continue this work in developing new forms of justice through artistic representation and intervention. “New forms of justice can emerge through art that engages with social, cultural, and political issues—ones that aren’t tied to codified laws and biased systems,” says Ijeoma. 

When asked to define “poetic justice,” Ijeoma explained that, for him, the phrase is about using code-switching content, form, context, and function to create artwork with rhythm and harmony that extends our perceptions and exposes the social-political systems affecting us as individuals. An example of this is his Deconstructed Anthems project, an ongoing series of music performances and light installations that explores the inequalities of the American Dream and realities of mass incarceration through “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as well as Pan-African AIDS, a sculpture examining the hypervisibility of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and the hidden one in Black America. The latter is on display through April 28, 2019 at the Museum of the City of New York as part of the exhibit Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis.

Ijeoma’s art practice has been primarily project-based and commission-driven. His two most recent large works, both deeply conceptual yet highly technical projects, required research and development to happen concurrently with the production of the work. At the Media Lab, with more space for trial, error, and failure, he will have the resources and facilities to stay reflective and proactive, to create work outside of commissions, and to expand more artworks into series. In addition, he will have opportunities for more listening to and meditating on issues. 

“Like many artists,” says Ijeoma, “A lot of my work comes from forward thinking and vibing—channeling my environment and signaling out the noise.” This aspect of his practice is reflected in work such as The Refugee Project (2014), released a few months before the European refugee crisis; Look Up (2016), released a few days before Pokemon Go; and more recently Pan-African AIDS, which was presented as news was breaking on the underreported  AIDS epidemic in the black populations in areas including the American South.

Ijeoma’s work has been commissioned and presented by venues and events that include the Museum of Modern Art, Kennedy Center, Design Museum, Istanbul Design Biennial, Fondation EDF, Annenberg Space for Photography, Neuberger Museum of Art (SUNY Purchase), and Storefront for Art and Architecture.

“We are thrilled that Ekene Ijeoma will be joining the Media Lab and MAS program,” said Tod Machover, the head of the MIT Program in Media Arts and Sciences, the Media Lab’s academic program. “Ekene’s work is brilliant, bold, and beautiful, and the way he combines expression, reflection, innovation, and activism will place him at the absolute center of Media Lab culture, hopefully for many years to come.”

Ekene Ijeoma graduated with a BS in information technology from Rochester Institute of Technology and an MA in interaction design from Domus Academy. He has lectured and critiqued at Yale University, Harvard Law School, Columbia University, New York University, the School of Visual Arts, and The New School.

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Ekene Ijeoma's Deconstructed Anthems

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Deconstructed Anthems at the Day for Night festival.

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Emmy-winning pianist Kris Bowers, Blue-note recording artist/trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and Grammy-nominated bassist Burniss Earl Travis perform Deconstructed Anthems.

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Burniss Earl Travis

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Ambrose Akinmusire

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Deconstructed Anthems is an ongoing series of music performances and light installations in which a self-playing piano and music ensemble deconstruct the Star-Spangled Banner, repeating it multiple times, removing notes at the rate of mass incarceration, and ending in silence. 

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