Earlier this year, The New York Times spent a day with Harlem’s own, Grace Aneiza Ali. The result was a stunning and inspiring Sunday Times profile, delving into the young professional’s personal and public practice. In the days following, a colleague of Ali’s asked her how the New York Times had noticed her, out of 8 million people in the city. Taken aback, she did not answer the question – which was, presumably, rhetorical, and likely, meant to be a compliment – but Morningsider is more than pleased to count the ways. The answers (yes, there are many!) are crystal clear.
1. Ali’s award of the 2014 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellowship, most assuredly, placed her squarely on the New York Times’ radar. If she wasn’t at the head of the line already, at the start of 2014, when recipients were announced, she shot straight to the top!
She received the prestigious award in partnership with Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art for the 2015 exhibition, “Guyana Modern,” which will feature a new generation of photographers from Guyana and its major diasporic communities in New York, London and Toronto. A native of Guyana, Ali’s work around the country’s artistic and cultural production has been on-going through publications, press, short films, writing and even her own artwork, for the past two years. The Warhol Fellowship brings this deeply personal exploration together by funding her research and travel to the diasporic points – London, Guyana and Toronto – to meet with photographers, visit the archives and organize the first comprehensive photography exhibit of its kind. Today, Ali is fresh off the plane from London to Harlem – courtesy of Andy Warhol – where she began her research and work on the 2015 project. This exciting travel continues throughout the summer!
2. In 2012, Ms. Ali was invited to join the World Economic Forum Global Shapers - a team of young leaders, hand-picked from around the world for their innovative work toward making the world a better place. The New York group engages in high-powered meetings about once per month, to help bring about solutions to some of the world’s most pressing concerns. She was initiated into this distinguished group by accepting the incredible honor of speaking at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2012. There, she delivered a speech about Creative Resilience – addressing the artists’ ability to transform adversities into opportunity. This theme has remained at the heart of Ali’s work as a curator, educator and visual artist.
3. She founded something! Grace Ali is the founder, edit0r and publisher of an award-winning magazine: OF NOTE magazine, launched in 2009, focuses on global artists using the arts as catalysts for social change. The magazine has a growing international audience of more than 6000, employs local freelance writers, and provides a platform for a diverse mix of emerging and established artists doing meaningful, imaginative work. Each issue is thoughtfully themed and highlights ten exceptional artists. The most recent – The Immigrant Issue – additionally posits the concept that immigrant life is art itself.
4. As a new grad of the University of Maryland, College Park (2003), Ali received the best graduation gift ever: a Fullbright Scholarship! The Fulbright Program is the flagship educational exchange program, sponsored by the U.S. government and designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. As a Fulbrighter, Ali traveled to India to study Indian women’s literature, and to dig deeper into her extended heritage. Receiving this internationally recognized award entered her instantly into a diverse community of accomplished individuals; it was grand, and early, recognition of Ali’s exceptional vision and set the stage for her creative and continued academic projects, combining visual and literary arts and activism.
5. Last, but certainly not least, Ali is an adjunct professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at The City College of New York (CUNY). She teaches global literature, from the 20th century to present, and challenges students – through critical analyses, spirited discussion and student-led presentations – to explore personal and contemporary social and political connections with the reading. City College students have been known to repeat her course, by choice. It is no wonder that, after only one year, Ali received the award for Outstanding Faculty of the Year for her productive and innovative approach as an educator.
Grace Ali became best known in the community in her role as Associate Director of Programs at the Dwyer Cultural Center, which she held for two years. More recently, she launched and hosted the “Visually Speaking” series (curated by Terrence Jennings) at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center, which examines the state of photojournalism through the lens of photographers and image-makers. Presently, Harlem is simply home for Ali, and the incubator for her creative industry throughout the city and around the world.
Grace’s family immigrated to the United States when she was fourteen, starting a new life in Washington D.C. She attended University of Maryland, College Park, where she graduated magna cum laude. From there, she made her way to NYU and received her M.A. in Africana Studies. Ali always knew that her move to New York would land her Uptown. Introduced to Harlem as a girl, through the language of Langston, Baldwin and Zora, she was drawn by the creative spirit of the neighborhood’s past. Once she arrived, she discovered that spirit still vibrant and conducive to her globally-inspired endeavors. “Harlem has always had a history of being open and embracing to the world.” says Ali. “It’s been incredibly welcoming to everyone, and that’s something to boast about and be proud of.”
Morningsider’s question to Ali’s inquisitive co-worker is simple: “How could the New York Times NOT have noticed?”
Grace Aneiza Ali has visual art on exhibit in the H O M E Exhibition, curated by Omo Misha as part of No Longer Empty’s “If You Build It” – a site-specific art installation staged at Broadway Housing Communities’ (future) Sugar Hill Apartments and Children’s Museum building. Exhibition runs from June 25-August 10, 2014. CLICK HERE to learn more. Visit www.ofnotemagazine.org to read and follow Grace’s work through OF NOTE.