Category Archives: Work

Aja Monet featured in Carrie Mae Weems’ “Grace Notes: Reflections for Now”



Carrie Mae Weems (Artist), Aja Monet (Poet) (photo: William Struhs)


“I’m deeply aware of the stress that’s put on our community, the stress that’s put on black women, the stress that’s put on black men. It’s not a play, it’s really this battle.” — Carrie Mae Weems

Today’s ART21 Exclusive features Carrie Mae Weems staging Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, a performance that examines the escalating racial tensions across the United States, and the role of grace in the pursuit of democracy. Although known for her work as a photographer, in Grace Notes Weems blends spoken word, music, projected video, and dance to commemorate the tragic deaths of young black men like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.


“The thing to me that is remarkable about our history, about who we are, about how we have conducted ourselves in the onslaught of history, is to maintain the core of our dignity,” says Weems to the show’s cast during a rehearsal. “That is really the ultimate call of grace.”

Grace Notes was commissioned by Spoleto Festival USA and performed in June 2016 to honor the nine churchgoers who were killed one year earlier at Emanuel AME Church, located just three blocks from the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre where Grace Notes was performed. It will be performed again at the Yale Repertory Theatre in September, as part of the No Boundaries Series.

Watch ART21 segment on show:

How A Brooklyn Poet Set Up Miami’s Most Exciting New Music Studio

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Art can be entertainment, a relief from the struggles of our day-to-day lives. But it can also be a tool to make sense of these same struggles. Often there is an inherent tension in trying to reconcile the escapist qualities of art with its transformative power. In an age when the day-to-day has become life or death for many Americans facing systems that are inherently, and too often silently, discriminatory, where does art end and activism begin?

This is a question that Aja Monet, an Afro-Cuban poet, educator, and activist from Brooklyn, has been giving a lot of thought to in recent years. “If you’re reinforcing that money will set you free, that’s only oppressing our people more,” she tells me over the phone. “Let’s stop supporting the things that are hurting us and use music for a spiritual reckoning of our ancestors.” Last spring, Monet relocated from Brooklyn to Little Haiti, Miami and went from pondering to acting. The result is Smoke Signals, a music studio where art and community can come together.


Poet Aja Monet Confronts Police Brutality Against Black Women With #SayHerName

“Melissa Williams,” Aja Monet reads, “Darnisha Harris.” Her voice is strong; it marches along, but it shakes a little, although not from nerves. She’s performing a poem that includes the forgotten names of girls and women who’ve been injured or killed by the police. She finishes forcefully, then pauses, exhales. “Can I do that again?” she asks. “It’s my first time reading it out loud, and … ” she trails off.

Monet had written the poem — a contribution to the #SayHerName campaign, a necessary CONTINUATION of the Black Lives Matter movement focusing on overlooked police violence against women — earlier that morning. That evening, she’d read it at a vigil. Now, she was practicing on camera, surprised by the power of her own words.

As a poet, Monet is prolific. She’s been performing both music and readings for some time — at 19, she was the youngest ever WINNER of New York City’s Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam — and her work has brought her to France, Bermuda and Cuba, from where her grandmother fled, and where she recently learned she still has extended family. Next month, she’ll return to visit them. But first, she wants to contribute to a campaign she believes in.

Though she’s disheartened that a hashtag is necessary to capture people’s attention — “I think #SayHerName is the surface LEVEL of the issues but beneath that there is the real question of, ‘Why?’” she says — Monet wields her art to achieve social and political justice. While discussing political poetry with a fellow artist in Palestine, he observed, “Art is more political than politics.” “I feel him,” she says. “I think he’s right.”