Related Features


Your support helps us cover dance in New York City and beyond! Donate now.

Queer|Art announces Shanel Edwards as winner of 2020 Eva Yaa Asantewaa Grant for Queer Women(+) Dance Artists

Queer|Art announces Shanel Edwards as winner of 2020 Eva Yaa Asantewaa Grant for Queer Women(+) Dance Artists

Published on February 18, 2021
Photo from Shanel Edwards' website





Queer|Art, New York City’s home for the creative and professional development of LGBTQ+ artists, is pleased to announce the winner of the third annual Eva Yaa Asantewaa Grant For Queer Women(+) Dance ArtistsShanel Edwards (pronouns: they/them). Edwards will receive a $7,000 cash grant to support the development period of Against a backdrop of horror, the mundane is almost a luxury, an archival choreopoem set to premiere in Summer 2021

Shanel was one of 71 applicants who applied for the Yaa Asantewaa grant in its third year. Against a backdrop of horror, the mundane is almost a luxury ritualizes the mudanity of Black queer and trans experience by honoring and exploring practices of restoration. This choreo-poem captures moments outside of performance and centers rest in both bodies and spirits to counter the capitalistic structure of exhaustion. The development period will include three Black Queer and Trans movers recording where the mundane exists within themselves and around them. The documentation of the ritual recordings invites a process of discovery, connection, and self-restoration, and a cultivation of communal experiences.

Four other dance artists were acknowledged as finalists for this year—MurdaMommy, Anna Martine Whitehead, Ogemdi Udeand x senn_yuen.

The judges, who were selected by Queer|Art to review applications for the grant, include dance and movement-based choreographers, educators and directors: Torya Beard (NY)Ni’Ja Whitson (CA), and Leah Wilks (BK/NC). Named in honor of visionary dance curator, critic, and educator Eva Yaa Asantewaa, the grant seeks to highlight the important contributions queer women and gender non-conforming dance artists have made to dance throughout history.

“Folks who care about the art of dance—an art of the moving body in time and space—try to preserve its wonders against disappearance,” Yaa Asantewaa writes. “With this award, we seek to record and honor the creative innovation and labor of queer women(+) dance artists. To acknowledge them as full humans and artists informed and nourished by love, by experience, and by culture. To support and revere our artists for exactly and completely who they are; so, they know a fierce community of peers, elders, and ancestors has got their back; and to make our world a safer, more empowering place for queer artists and, in truth, for all artists and for all people.”

About Shanel Edwards, Winner

Shanel Edwards is a Philadelphia-rooted, first-generation Jamaican, Black, Queer, Non-binary, artist, and world-builder. They utilize movement, filmmaking, hairstyling, poetry, and photography as channels to create their work. Their creations are birthed through their Black queer and trans existence, tenderness, water, intimacy, and collective dreaming. Shanel is a 2020 Mural Arts fellow and was a 2019 Artist in Residence with Urban Movement Arts (Philadelphia). They have choreographed for productions at The University of the Arts (2019), and Princeton University (2020). Shanel works closely with spirit and their ancestors through herbal knowledge, divination, and channeling through movement to invoke and envision a world where Black trans women are liberated.

"The support from this grant will sustain co-creation and connection between Black queer and trans movers across space and time; artists existing in their mundanity, while also being supported in their livelihood. This grant will be helping to build landscapes of beingness through choreovisualsonic methods and will facilitate ease in exploration, rest in play, and expansion in discovery.” - Shanel Edwards, 2020 Yaa Asantewaa Grant Winner

About Against a backdrop of horror, the mundane is almost a luxury

In Against a backdrop of horror, the mundane is almost a luxury, Edwards builds a collective of three Black queer and trans movers to create an archival choreopoem consisting of documentation that brings attention to mundane moments in these movers’ lives. The Yaa Asantewaa Grant supports the development of this multi-modal work that centers and ritualizes the mundanity of Black queer and trans experiences to express survival in ways that denounce capitalistic values of over-productivity and time scarcity.

The work evolves from a self-practice of Edwards who actively honors the mundane in their life as a ritual to support self-validation, rest, and liberation. To build the collective choreopoem, each mover will record the moments where mundanity exists for them: playing/stoop chilling/knitting/humming/silence/reading/filing nails/sitting by the ocean or river/nose picking/ear swabbing/brushing teeth/twisting hair/stillness/lotioning/laughing. These quiet moments of being call back rest and build a ritual guide through the subtleties of Black queer and trans survival. The movers will meet virtually to share findings, witness each other's process, provide expansive feedback, and locate commonalities and entry points in each other's experience. From this documentation ritual space, each mover will generate a transdisciplinary piece deepening their discoveries. The time spent documenting and gathering together to share and expand will facilitate the creation of movement sequences, songs, and poems that will make up the final choreopoem for presentation. With full autonomy over set design, attire, and how each mover's piece interacts with the collective choreopoem, this choreopoem is a culmination of each mover's discoveries.

Against a backdrop of horror, the mundane is almost a luxury will be presented in early Summer 2021 in a virtual platform. Live presentation and viewings will be subsequently scheduled depending on COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

View a selection of Against the backdrop of horror, the mundane is almost a luxury by Shanel Edwards here.

Two pictures of Shanel Edwards, one a close up and the other a movement shot as she poses with her arms slightly out
Shanel Edwards; photo from Shanel Edwards' website

About MurdaMommy, Finalist

MurdaMommy is a dancer, musician, actor, and innovator in the film, fashion, and gaming industries. As a lesbian artist and a teen who experienced homelessness, she brings her life experiences into her practice and teaches the dance form Chicago Footwork to people who live on the South and West sides of Chicago. In 2019, she was recognized by SWAN Day Chicago, celebrating black women in dance. Also 2020 Dance/USA fellow. MurdaMommy has performed across the U.S. In Chicago, she mentors and connects with all generations through performance and workshops, including programs within Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and Stateville Correctional Center.

About Anna Martine Whitehead, Finalist

Anna Martine Whitehead does performance. She has been presented by the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art; San José Museum of Art; and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and recognized with awards from the Graham Foundation, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, 3Arts, Chicago Dancemakers Forum, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, Rauschenberg Foundation, and Djerassi. Martine has developed her craft by working with Onye Ozuzu, Jefferson Pinder, taisha paggett, Every house has a door, Keith Hennessy, the Prison + Neighborhood Art Project, and others. She has written about blackness, queerness, and bodies in action for Art21 Magazine, C Magazine, frieze, Art Practical and Queer Dance: Meanings and Makings (Oxford, 2017). Martine is the author of TREASURE | My Black Rupture (Thread Makes Blanket, 2016).

About Ogemdi Ude, Finalist

Ogemdi Ude is a Nigerian-American dance artist, educator, and doula based in Brooklyn, NY. She creates performances that investigate how Black folks’ cultural, familial, and personal histories are embedded in their bodies and influence their everyday and performative movement. She aims to incite critical engagement with embodied Black history as a means to imagine Black futurity. Her work has been presented at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Danspace Project, Gibney, Center for Performance Research, Movement Research at the Judson Church, Streb Lab for Action Mechanics, and for BAM's DanceAfrica festival. She currently serves as Head of Movement for Drama at Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English, Dance, and Theater from Princeton University.

About x senn yuen, Finalist

x is an Afro-Chinese-Jamaican, second generation (im)migrant, that investigates post-structural and hyper-accessible frameworks of their own design. As a TRANSdisciplinary artist, x interrogates the performativity of self and the embodiment of trauma drawing upon the overwhelming confusion of their lived experiences. Their work manifests as installation, dance-theatre, mixed media tchotchkes and pseudo-Expressionist oil paintings. x is a recipient of the Emerging Artist Initiative Fund, Disability. Dance. Artistry. Dance and Social Justice Fellowship Program, and Voice of the Valley Sound Artist Grant. x also participated in the Fall 2019 Needing It residency at Brooklyn Arts Exchange. x is the founder, executive director, and artistic director of {amdpc}, a multi-dimensional performance company, a grassroots collective of artivists.

About Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Eva Yaa Asantewaa (pronouns: she/her) is Gibney's Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation as well as Editorial Director for Imagining: A Gibney Journal. She won the 2017 Bessie Award for Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance as a veteran writer, curator and community educator. Since 1976, she has contributed writing on dance to Dance MagazineThe Village VoiceSoHo Weekly NewsGay City News, The Dance EnthusiastTime Out New York and other publications and interviewed dance artists and advocates as host of two podcasts, Body and Soul and Serious Moonlight. She blogs on the arts, with dance as a specialty, for InfiniteBody.

Ms. Yaa Asantewaa joined the curatorial team for Danspace Project’s Platform 2016: Lost and Found and created the skeleton architecture, or the future of our worlds, an evening of group improvisation featuring 21 Black women and gender-nonconforming performers. Her cast was awarded a 2017 Bessie for Outstanding Performer. In 2018, Queer|Art named one of its awards in her honor, and Detroit-based choreographer Jennifer Harge won the first Eva Yaa Asantewaa Grant for Queer Women(+) Dance Artists. In 2019, Yaa Asantewaa was a recipient of a BAX Arts & Artists in Progress Award.

A native New Yorker of Black Caribbean heritage, Eva makes her home in the East Village with her wife, Deborah, and cat, Crystal.

About the 2020 Judges

Torya Beard (New York) is a New York-based director, creative consultant/strategist, choreographer, and producer specializing in dance and theater. Her curvy professional path reflects a deep curiosity about and belief in the boundless possibilities at the intersection of creativity, artistic expression, and social justice. She studied dance at The University of Michigan and toured as a dancer with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, David Rousseve/Reality, The Kevin Wynn Collection, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance, Deeply Rooted Chicago Dance Theatre, the National Tour of Donald Byrd’s The Harlem Nutcracker, and was a featured dancer in the film “Idlewild.” She made her Broadway debut in "Disney’s The Lion King" (swing, dance captain, understudy Sarabi) and her favorite regional credit is "The Wiz," at Arkansas Repertory Theater. Torya’s passion for dance and theatre lead to 15-years in PR & Marketing as Owner/Creative Director of thatgirl006, Inc. Torya is Executive Director at A BroaderWay Foundation, Director of Original Tap House, Co-Founder of tall poPpy, Inc., Managing and Creative Director of Ayodele Casel's AyoLives, Inc., Arts Education Consultant for Excellence Community Schools, and serves on the Board of Directors for Earl Mosley's Diversity of Dance.

Ni’Ja Whitson (California) is a Queer Nonbinary Trans multidisciplinary artist, Creative Capital and two-time "Bessie" Awardee, wound and word worker, referred to as “majestic” by The New York Times, and recognized by Brooklyn Magazine as a culture influencer. They engage transdisciplinarity through a critical intersection of the sacred and conceptual in Black, Queer, and Transembodiedness, site, science, body and spirit. Whitson is an 18th St. Artist in Residence (Los Angeles), Center for Performance Research artist in residence (NYC), featured choreographer of the 2018 CCA Biennial, 2018-2020 Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Fellow, and invited presenter at the 2019 international Tanzkongress festival in Dresden, Germany.  Their award-winning practice extends to conventional and experimental theatre, opera, and performance with recent commissions from Yale Dance Lab, Spoleto Festival (Omar an opera composed by Rhiannon Giddens, directed by Charlotte Brathwaite), EMPAC, and California African American Museum.

Leah Wilks (Brooklyn/ North Carolina) is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer originally hailing from North Carolina. She has taught and shared her work in a variety of locations including the American Dance Festival, Elon University, University of Michigan, Ponderosa Tanzland festival, Gibney Dance, the queer dance intensive Excessive Realness, the Hemispheric Institute’s Convergence - Toronto, and PROTEO|media+performance’s Post/Futures Festival. Most recently she has performed with, BAND|portier, Sara Hook, Tommy DeFrantz/SLIPPAGE, Kristin Clotfelter/Studio C Projects, and in her own duet work with collaborator Mauriah Kraker under the moniker L+M. Leah holds an MFA in Dance and a certificate in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she received the Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for her pedagogical and mentorship work. She is also a gardener, musician, community organizer, elder companion, and writer. Leah’s current research revolves around thanatology (the study of death and dying practices), memory, queer systems of horizontal care, and the creation of monumental spaces through movement.

About Queer|Art

Queer|Art was born out of the recognition of a generation of artists and audiences lost to the ongoing AIDS Crisis, and in a profound understanding that one of the many repercussions of that loss has been a lack of mentors and role models for a new generation of LGBTQ+ artists. Founded in 2009 by filmmaker Ira Sachs, Queer|Art serves as a ballast against this loss and seeks to highlight and address a continuing fundamental lack of both economic and institutional support for LGBTQ+ artists. Our mission is to provide individuals within our community with the tools, resources, and guidance they need to achieve success and visibility for their work at the highest levels of their field.

The current programs of Queer|Art include: the year-long Queer|Art|Mentorship program; the long-running Queer|Art|Film series, held monthly at the IFC Center in lower Manhattan; and Queer|Art|Awards, an initiative of grants, prizes, and awards that provides various kinds of direct support—monetary and otherwise—to LGBTQ+ artists.

A list of the intergenerational community of artists supported and brought together by Queer|Art includes: Silas Howard, Jennie Livingston, Matt Wolf, Hilton Als, Sarah Schulman, Pamela Sneed, Justin Vivian Bond, Jibz Cameron, Trajal Harrell, John Kelly, Geoffrey Chadsey, Everett Quinton, Geo Wyeth, Angela Dufresne, Nicole Eisenman, Avram Finkelstein, Chitra Ganesh, Pati Hertling, Jonathan Katz, Tourmaline & Sasha Wortzel, Jess Barbagallo, Morgan Bassichis, Monstah Black, Yve Laris Cohen, Troy Michie, Tommy Pico, Justin Sayre, Colin Self, Jacolby Satterwhite, Rick Herron, and Hugh Ryan, among many others.

The Dance Enthusiast Shares news from the dance world and creates conversation.
For more Dance News pieces, click here.
If you have important news to share, please send announcements or press release to!

The Dance Enthusiast - News, Reviews, Interviews and an Open Invitation for YOU to join the Dance Conversation.

Related Features

View More Features