i want to climb inside every word and lick the salty neck of each letter

Kameelah Janan Rasheed


i want to climb inside every word and lick the salty neck of each letter is Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s first major solo exhibition in her native California. Born in 1985 in East Palo Alto, an important city in the history of Black radical politics and pedagogy, Rasheed is a former child website coder, high school teacher, and a self-described “learner” whose work enacts and expands the ways we navigate and interpret the world around us. 

Rasheed’s exhibition at REDCAT is an homage to formative experiences of the interspecies, interspiritual, and language-rich environment in which she grew up: on marshlands and nature reserves exploring markings and droppings left by animals; in Islamic studies courses memorizing the choreography of her body to pray and her hand to scribe Arabic; in Catholic school reflecting on Biblical exegesis; and delving into her parents’ bookshelves of religious texts, Black literature, science textbooks, and political theory. These profound forms of communication–expressed through the body and its gestures–inform Rasheed’s immersive text-based work and touch on the desire not just to read and learn, but to engage with language so deeply it can be physically felt. Videos of her ingesting, rubbing, and licking language point to poet and activist Audre Lorde’s understanding of the erotic as a source of power and knowledge rooted in the act of feeling and in the desire to be overtaken by experience itself. 

Embracing the sensorial, Rasheed incorporates into the exhibition natural materials from the marsh that have been gathered by the artist’s family. A new series of light-sensitive prints are made by washing photosensitive paper in water from various locales and pressing the artist’s weight into them. The exhibition presents an immersive constellation of letters, words and non-words, moving images, body gestures, rituals and sounds that engage the erotics of reading and writing and transgress the limits of linguistic description. The exhibition also stages experimental conversations between writer and exile Clarice Lispector, French philosopher Roland Barthes, LA based poet Harryette Mullen, and artist Pope.L that are concerned with the intimacies, desires, and frustrations held in using language to describe an experience or animate a memory. 

On July 13, 2024 Rasheed will premiere a lecture performance of a speculative conversation between Clarice Lispectors’ Água Viva and Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text. The exhibition at REDCAT is accompanied by a reader under Rasheed’s publishing project Scratch Disk Full.

The way [Kameelah Janan Rasheed] repeats words feels like a meditation, almost like a hymn.

Carolin Schmidt, Berlin Art Week, 2023

The exhibition is co-curated by Daniela Lieja Quintanar, Chief Curator and Deputy Director, Programs, and Talia Heiman, Assistant Curator.

The exhibition is funded in part with generous support from The Andy Warhol Foundation and Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.

about the artist

Kameelah Janan Rasheed

A learner, Kameelah Janan Rasheed grapples with the poetics-pleasures-politics of Black knowledge production, information technologies, [un]learning, and belief formation. Most recently, she is a recipient of a 2022 Schering Stiftung Award for Artistic Research; a 2022 Creative Capital Award; a 2022 Betty Parsons Fellow – Artist2Artist Art Matters Award; a 2022 Artists + Machine Intelligence Grants – Experiments with Google; and a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts. Rasheed is the author of five artist’s books: in the coherence, we weep (KW Institute for Contemporary Art, 2023); i am not done yet (Mousse Publishing, 2022); An Alphabetical Accumulation of Approximate Observations (Endless Editions, 2019); No New Theories (Printed Matter, 2019); and the digital publication Scoring the Stacks (Brooklyn Public Library, 2021). Her writing has appeared in Triple Canopy, The New Inquiry, Shift Space, Active Cultures, and The Believer. She is an adjunct instructor at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and a critic at Yale School of Art, Sculpture. Rasheed is represented by NOME Gallery in Berlin, Germany.

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