“Everything I do will always be about unflattening the reductive idea of Blackness.”
Berette S Macaulay is a living, breathing example of a diasporic human. She is international and not just because air travel has allowed her to see the world. On the contrary, Berette is from Sierre Leone, has lived in several countries and holds passports from three, speaks multiple languages, and is an interdisciplinary artist and writer whose curatorial practice is well known and highly respected across the globe. Last week upon the opening of the new Jacob Lawrence Gallery at the University of Washington, it was announced that Berette has been named the Guest Curator for the 2024 Jacob Lawrence Legacy Residency. The residency will host New York-based Jamaican artist and filmmaker Simon Benjamin.
Spending time in the presence of Berette is a deeply spiritual experience. She is what my elders would call, “beyond her years.” Beautiful, vibrant, indisputably intellectual, and still young, Berette is a woman who embodies all that it means to be a global citizen. “The very concept of a Black person having multiple cultures in their body is not an identity that Black people are allowed to have,” Macaulay notes. She speaks emphatically about the international nature of her existence and the constant navigation of belonging. When talking about the absence of a place for her to feel her global self, Macaulay notes that often, hers is "an invisible reality."
Her work however is highly visible and unapologetically global. As we were speaking the same week as the Jacob Lawrence Gallery curator announcement was being made, Berette was preparing for an exhibit in Rotterdam, after which she will visit home – Sierre Leone. Even though her work is global, Berette finds it a bit dismaying that she is not known as an artist locally. “My art practice largely exists outside of this area, yet, it is the thing that informs everything else. I am an artist with a curatorial practice. It changes how one curates when you are an artist serving artists based on lived experience,” she shared.
Bringing artists and communities together is a sweet spot for Berette, as was evidenced in her spring 2023 presentation of the UN-[TITLED] project, an immersive, multisite-specific experience centered on the ways in which communities are displaced by gentrification, and focused on community meaning, cultural memory, and healing in the Central and Chinatown International Districts of Seattle. This project brought together no fewer than 30 distinct partners, artists, and managers to immerse participants into a world of experiential learning about shared histories, with the primary location being a former Immigration and Naturalization Center building that now serves as an arts space.
When speaking about the continuum of UN-[TITLED] and the Jacob Lawrence Gallery residency, Macaulay notes that “the legacy residency program is an embodied and activated way of engaging Jacob Lawrence’s legacy, as a community-centered artist, as an artist who saw it as important to keep history and story, and to document the community organizing and community movement and migrations and what political, and governmental, and legislative activities in the history of this country led to all of these kinds of movements. His dedication to that as an artist is a very alive thing and is very instructional as to how we should move as artists. This residency allows for the continuum of that.”
Berette is very clear about how she sees her role as curator as a responsibility to support Simon Benjamin in the work he is interested in doing. “My influence in that is the ability to think across multiple cultural histories and ways of looking at Black culture that comes from my indigenous background of being born in one place and naturalized in four different countries. I can’t help but look through multiple lenses of Blackness.”
The fire in Berette’s belly for her people is also evident in the passion she puts into all of her projects, including Black Cinema Collective, and Imagine | Evolve, an intersectional multimedia arts incubator supporting cultural, educational, and individual creative projects. She has an authentic heart for whatever community she might find herself working, and the utmost respect for the histories and legacies of the streets that may not have raised her, but for whom she is willing to make unlimited deposits of culture, intellect, and respect. She is an oracle with the world as her home.
Learn more about this phenomenal woman artist here.
A short reel from a few of Berette Macaulay's projects, courtesy of the artist