People

Dr. S. Ama Wray | Co-Principal Investigator 

Sheron Wray, Associate Professor of dance at the University of California, Irvine, received her PhD from the University of Surrey in 2016. Within the realm of contemporary dance she danced with flagship dance companies in the UK – London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Rambert Dance Company. As founding Artistic Director of JazzXchange her collaborator include: Wynton Marsalis, Gary Grosby, Bobby McFerrin, Julian Joseph and Zoe Rahman. For 2018 she is the Interdisciplinary Artist-in-Residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Master-Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Florida. Expanding from her dance base, she directs and choreographs the work of playwright and actor Mojisola Adebayo and co-creates Texterritory performances with Fleeta Siegel, which stimulate audience participation through technology during performance; with zeal she continues to be the sole custodian of Jane Dudley’s timeless solo Harmonica Breakdown, created in 1938. Her scholarly praxis led her to develop Embodiology® – a neo-African improvisation methodology that is integral to her teaching, artistic practice and interdisciplinary scholarship.

Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o | Co-Principal Investigator 

Novelist and theorist of post-colonial literature, Ngũgĩ is currently a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, USA. He was born in Kenya, in 1938 into a large peasant family. He was educated at Kamandura, Manguu and Kinyogori primary schools; Alliance High School, all in Kenya; Makerere University College (then a campus of London University), Kampala, Uganda; and the University of Leeds, Britain.

The Kenya of his birth and youth was a British settler colony (1895-1963). As an adolescent, he lived through the Mau Mau War of Independence (1952-1962), the central historical episode in the making of modern Kenya and a major theme in his early works.

Ngũgĩ burst onto the literary scene in East Africa with the performance of his first major play, The Black Hermit, at the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda, in 1962, as part of the celebration of Uganda’s Independence. “Ngũgĩ Speaks for the Continent,” headlined The Makererian, the Student newspaper, in a review of the performance by Trevor Whittock, one of the professors. In a highly productive literary period, Ngũgĩ wrote additionally eight short stories, two one act plays, two novels, and a regular column for the Sunday Nation under the title, As I See It. One of the novels, Weep Not Child, was published to critical acclaim in 1964; followed by the second novel, The River Between (1965). His third, A Grain of Wheat (1967), was a turning point in the formal and ideological direction of his works. Multi-narrative lines and multi-viewpoints unfolding at different times and spaces replace the linear temporal unfolding of the plot from a single viewpoint. The collective replaces the individual as the center of history.

Dr. Tiffany Willoughby-Harard | Co-Principal Investigator 

Tiffany Willoughby-Herard is Associate Professor of African American Studies, a Faculty affiliate of Gender, Sexual, and Queer Studies at the University of California, Irvine. During her time at UCI, she has received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research through her contribution in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and Division of Undergraduate Education. Willoughby-Herard works on comparative racialization in the South African and North American contexts, Black political thought, and African feminisms. Some of her research focus includes topics on South Africa, poor whites, race in foreign policy, diaspora, comparative racial politics, feminism, and community and civic engagement. In her recent book, Waste of a White Skin: Carnegie and the Racial Logic of White Vulnerability, she uses black feminism, black internationalism, and the black radical tradition, to explore the effect of politics of white poverty on black people’s life, work, and political resistance. In particular, this groundbreaking book examines the philanthropic institution of the Carnegie Foundation, contributed to the constitution of apartheid as a process of knowledge production in South Africa. Her manuscript examines U.S. complicity in constructing notions of whiteness, arguing that the Carnegie Commission Study of Poor Whites helped create knowledge production process central to apartheid, in particular scientific racialism. Some of her other works include Black Rainbows: Militant White Women Writers, Post-Racial Discourse, and the Stakes of Race, Class, and Gender in South Africa, Mammy No More/ Mammy Forever: The Stakes and Costs of Teaching Our Colleagues, and More expendable than slaves? Racial Justice and the After-Life of Slavery.

Dr. Daniel Kodzo Avorgbedor | Fellow

Dr. Avorgbedor is currently on a post-retirement teaching and research contract at the Institute of African Studies and in the School of Performing Arts at the University of Ghana, Legon. Major research and teaching areas include performance theories, African Diaspora studies, and rural-urban dynamics in reconstructing Ewe cultural and musical identities. Dr. Avorgbedor served as coordinator of the Ethnomusicology program at The Ohio State University, Columbus and held a joint appointment in the Department of African American and African Studies, 1995-2010. Major grants received include Wenner-Gren, H.F. Guggenheim, and NEH (team) awards. In addition to frequent international speaking engagements, Dr. Avorgbedor has published essays in several journals and entries in encyclopedias. He is editor of The Interrelatedness of Music, Religion, and Ritual in African Performance Practice, 2003.

Dr. Dele Olajide   MD. PhD. FRCPsych. FRSA. | Fellow

Dr. Dele Olajide is Emeritus Consultant Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital London.

He obtained basic medical education at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and his postgraduate psychiatric training at the world famous Maudsley Hospital. He undertook his doctoral and postdoctoral research in clinical psychopharmacology at the equally world-famous Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, London. He was appointed a senior clinical lecturer in Psychiatry and a consultant psychiatrist at both institutions and also became an Associate Medical Director in medical informatics until his retirement in June 2017.

Dr. Olajide worked on secondment as a Senior Medical officer in the English Department of Health with special responsibility for black and minority ethnic mental health policy and also advised ministers in that capacity. Dr. Olajide has developed several innovative psychiatric services for the black and ethnic minority communities in London most notably the innovative and multi award winning cares of life project, which became the template for a national service, improving access for psychological treatment for anxiety and depressive disorders.

As part of his interest in the arts, Dr. Olajide has worked in collaboration with professional actors to produce a play by psychiatric inpatients based on improvisational methodology. He has also curated an art exhibition. Dr. Olajide has published widely and has edited two books on ethnic minority mental health. He is an International Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He has appeared on TV and radio as expert on mental health policy and has given over 200 keynote speeches and lectures. Hobbies include fine wine collection, jazz, classical music, opera and inspirational cooking.

Dr. Sola Adeyemi | Fellow

Sola Adeyemi (PhD English, Leeds) lectures in the department of Theatre and Performance at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is currently a Fellow at the International Research Center (Interweaving Performance Cultures). His research area is world theatre and performance studies, with a focus on the works of Nigerian playwright Femi Osofisan; intercultural performance culture; contemporary British theatre; postcolonial literature and African Studies; and diasporic African and black British theatre in its exploration of the politics of identity on the British stage. He has recently completed a book on Femi Osofisan, “Vision of Change in African Drama: Deconstructing Identity and Reconfiguring History”. He is an Associate Editor for the African Performance Review and Contributing Editor to the International Journal of the Arts.

Zayda Sorrell Medina | Researcher

Zayda Sorrell Medina is a Social Change Artist,  Community Organizer, Advocate and a Ph.D. student at the University of California Irvine. Her research interests are related to topics on third sector organizations, immigration, legal outcomes, and child migrants. Her  professional background is in youth mentoring and program development. During her five year tenure at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, she developed a multi-year youth program intervention for students in Pittsburgh Public Schools aimed at addressing delinquency and to influence a culture of academic achievement and education equity. Zayda is a national award winning educator and has received several awards for best practice. In 2015, she was awarded the Whitney M. Young Project Ready Mentor III Award presented by National Urban League for best practice in mentoring, and again in 2017, she received the Caring Adult Award for her contribution in the field of youth mentoring. Zayda has a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts from the University of Missouri and Master’s in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. ​Learn more about her work by visiting yemayaproductions.org

Desha Dauchan | Fellow

Desha, a San Francisco native, Howard University and UCLA Alumna is an award
winning filmmaker. Mentored by filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, Desha produced, wrote and directed two short films, Episodes & Whispers winning Desha The Directors’ Guild of America Student Award, taking her to Cannes as a Kodak Emerging Filmmaker. Both films were finalists in the HBO Short Film competition at the American Black Film Festival and honored with the UCLA Spotlight Award. After winning the IFP Gordon Parks Award for Directing, Whispers screened at The Sundance Film Festival. As a writer, Desha explores magical realism in her feature length screenplays that have found support at Tribeca All Access, Film Independent Screenwriter’s Lab and the Hedgebrook Screenwriter’s Lab. Desha is excited about innovative approaches to visual storytelling and the sharing of rich human stories. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and two children and lectures on Film & Media Studies at University of California, Irvine.

Dr. Charles Limb | Fellow

Dr. Charles Limb is the Francis A. Sooy Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and the Chief of the Division of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery at UC San Francisco. He is also the Director of the Douglas Grant Cochlear Implant Center at UCSF and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Neurosurgery.

Dr. Limb received his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and his medical training at Yale University School of Medicine, followed by surgical residency and fellowship in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Center for Hearing Sciences at Johns Hopkins with Dr. David Ryugo studying the development of the auditory brainstem, and a second postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health studying neural mechanisms of musical improvisation and perception using functional neuroimaging methods. He was at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1996 to 2015, where he was Associate Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and a Faculty Member at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and School of Education at Johns Hopkins University. He left in 2015 to join the UCSF Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Dr. Limb’s expertise covers the full scope of otology and neurotology, with a focus on the treatment of hearing loss and auditory disorders. He specializes in all surgery of the temporal bone, with particular expertise in acoustic neuroma surgery, cochlear implant surgery, implantable hearing aids, stapes surgery, cholesteatoma surgery, and cancers of the ear. His current areas of research focus on the study of the neural basis of musical creativity as well as the study of music perception in deaf individuals with cochlear implants. He is the past Editor-in-Chief of Trends in Amplification (now Trends in Hearing), the only journal explicitly focused on auditory amplification devices and hearing aids, and an Editorial Board member of the journals Otology and Neurotology and Music and Medicine. His work has received international attention and has been featured by National Public Radio, TED, National Geographic, the New York Times, PBS, CNN, National Endowment for the Arts, Scientific American, the British Broadcasting Company, the Smithsonian Institute, the Library of Congress, the Sundance Film Festival, Canadian Broadcasting Company, the Kennedy Center, San Diego Symphony, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the American Museum of Natural History.

Jasmine Adams | Special Projects Assistant

Jasmine Adams is a third-year at UC Irvine, majoring in English and African-American Studies, with a minor in Latin. In her current undergraduate years, she won the Writing Center’s Black Lives Matter writing contest in 2017, participated in the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program during the 2017 summer, presented in the Undergraduate Culture and Theory Conference this past Spring Quarter, received the Cultural Leadership Award, and has been on the Dean’s Honor list several quarters. Currently, she serves as one of the Co-chairs for Black Student Union, the Vice President for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and is the Co-chair for iRise, an outreach program for admitted first-year and transfer minority students. In November 2017 Jasmine was appointed the Special Projects Assistant for The Africana Institute for Creativity, Recognition and Elevation.

Aaron Trammell | Fellow

Aaron Trammell is an assistant professor of Informatics at UC Irvine. He
graduated from the Rutgers University School of Communication and
Information in 2015 and spent a year at the Annenberg School of
Communication at USC as a postdoctoral researcher. Aaron’s research is
focused on revealing historical connections between games, play, and the
United States military-industrial complex. He is interested in how
political and social ideology is integrated in the practice of game
design and how these perspectives are negotiated within the imaginations
of players. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal _Analog Game
Studies_ and the Multimedia Editor of _Sounding Out!_

Dr. Tim Downing | Fellow

Dr. Tim Downing is an Assistant Professor at the University
of California, Irvine in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr.
Downing received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern
University, his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of
California, Berkeley, and completed his postdoctoral training at Harvard
University in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and
the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His research has been
recognized by the Ford Foundation Predoctoral and Postdoctoral
Fellowships, UNCF/Merck Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Dean’s
Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he was
recently named to the 2017 class of 30 Under 30 in Science by Forbes
Magazine for his research aimed at understanding how extracellular
signals can influence cell fate. The Downing Lab is developing new
approaches in epigenome engineering to advance the application of stem
cell technologies.

Lukas Ligeti| Fellow

Lukas Ligeti is a composer, percussionist, electronics performer, he serves on the faculty of UC Irvine. He studied composition at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria, his city of birth. He was a visiting scholar at Stanford University and subsequently lived in New York City from 1998 until 2015, when he became Assistant Professor in Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology, an innovative PhD program at the University of California, Irvine. He has taught at the University of Ghana, lecturing in collaboration with the eminent composer/musicologist J.H. Kwabena Nketia, and is currently completing a PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was previously composer-in-residence.The recipient of the 2010 CalArts Alpert Award in Music, he has been commissioned by Bang On A Can, Kronos Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, American Composers Orchestra, Ensemble Modern, and others, and has performed with John Zorn, Gary Lucas, Marilyn Crispell, etc., as well as giving solo concerts on 4 continents. His intercultural work has led him to 15 African countries; he co-founded the groups Beta Foly and Burkina Electric and has worked with traditional musicians in Egypt, Uganda, Zimbabwe, etc. He lives in Irvine and Johannesburg. Lukas has collaborated with choreographers such as Karole Armitage and Panaibra Gabriel Canda, composed music for the European ARTE TV channel, and created a sound installation for the Goethe Institute on the occasion of the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil. He has participated in two projects of Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui, and was artist-in-residence at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, where he created a site-specific performance.

Brenda Dixon Gottschild| Fellow

Brenda Dixon Gottschild is the author of Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts; Waltzing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era (winner of the 2001 Congress on Research in Dance Award for Outstanding Scholarly Dance Publication); The Black Dancing Body–A Geography from Coon to Cool (winner, 2004 de la Torre Bueno prize for scholarly excellence in dance publication); and Joan Myers Brown and The Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina-A Biohistory of American Performance. 

Additional honors include the Congress on Research in Dance Award for Outstanding Leadership in Dance Research (2008); a Leeway Foundation Transformation Grant (2009); the International Association for Blacks in Dance Outstanding Scholar Award (2013); the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus Civil Rights Award (2016); and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts (2017).

A self-described anti-racist cultural worker utilizing dance as her medium, she is a freelance writer, consultant, performer, and lecturer; a former consultant and writer for Dance Magazine; and Professor Emerita of dance studies, Temple University. As an artist-scholar she coined the phrase, “choreography for the page,” to describe her embodied, subjunctive approach to research writing. Nationwide and abroad she performs self-created solos and collaborates with her husband, choreographer/dancer Hellmut Gottschild, in a genre they developed and titled “movement theater discourse. www.bdixongottschild.com

Mojisola Adebayo | Fellow

Mojisola Adebayo has BA in Drama and Theatre Arts, an MA in Physical Theatre, a PhD in black queer theatre (Goldsmiths, Royal Holloway and Queen Mary, University of London) and she trained extensively with Augusto Boal in Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. She has worked in theatre, radio and television, on four continents, over the past two decades, performing in over 50 productions, writing, devising and directing over 30 plays and leading countless workshops, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe.  Her own plays in production include Moj of the Antarctic: An African Odyssey (Lyric Hammersmith and Oval House), Muhammad Ali and Me (Oval House, Albany Theatre and National touring), 48 Minutes for Palestine (Ashtar Theatre and international touring), Desert Boy (Albany Theatre and national touring), The Listeners (Pegasus Theatre), I Stand Corrected (Artscape, Oval House and international touring and The Interrogation of Sandra Bland (Bush Theatre and US premiere at Goodman Theatre forthcoming). Her publications include Mojisola Adebayo: Plays One (Oberon Books), 48 Minutes for Palestine in Theatre in Pieces (Methuen), The Interrogation of Sandra Bland in Black Lives, Black Words (Oberon Books), The Theatre for Development Handbook (written with John Martin and Manisha Mehta, available through www.pan-arts.net) as well as numerous academic chapters published by Methuen and Palgrave Macmillan. Mojisola Adebayo: Plays Two (Oberon books) is out in 2019. She is currently commissioned by the National Theatre to write Wind / Rush Generation which will be staged in 2020, followed by her play STARS at Ovalhouse Theatre and touring in 2020. Mojisola an Associate Artist with Pan, a Visiting Artist at Rose Bruford and Goldsmiths colleges and a Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London.

Henry John Drewal | Fellow

Apprenticeships with Yorùbá sculptors in Abeokuta and Ilaro, Nigeria transformed Henry John Drewal’s life, leading to a PhD at Columbia University in African arts, histories, and cultures. He has been the Evjue-Bascom Professor of African and African Diaspora arts in the Departments of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1991. His books and catalogues include Introspectives: Contemporary Art by Americans and Brazilians of African Descent (1989) ; Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought (co-authored with John Pemberton III and Rowland Abiodun; 1989) ; Beads, Body, and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe (co-authored with John Mason; 1998); Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and its Diasporas (2008); Sacred Waters: Arts for Mami Wata and other Divinities in Africa and the Diaspora (editor; 2008); and Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria (co-authored with Enid Schildkrout; 2010). His films include Celebrating Sacred Twins in Africa; Whirling Return of the Ancestors: Egungun Festivals in Porto-Novo-Benin and Oyotunji African Village-South Carolina; African Artistry: Technique and Aesthetics of the Yoruba Master Sculptor Ebo Segbe; Efe/Gelede Ceremonies among the Western Yoruba; Yoruba Performance; and BLACKsmiths of Morocco. 

Dr. Faisal Abdu’Allah | Fellow

‘If the relationship between history and violence represents unending and uneven threads of knowledge, when these dynamics are woven together we are primed to consider Abdu’Allah’s works as signposts towards a new becoming, and a place of human celebration and healing.

–Dr. Mark Sealy, MBE Director, Autograph (ABP)

The art of Faisal Abdu’Allah and his contemporaries in the early 1980s can be evaluated in a manner that fills an important void within available scholarship on the subject of contemporary art in relation to Afro-British culture. What began as an artistic gesture in the 1980s more fully materialized in the early twenty-first century as a complete conceptual approach that questioned issues of race and identity in relation to issues of cultural diversity and multiculturalism. Abdu’Allah’s work broke away from the British artistic establishment and the rules of institutional representation, particularly insofar as he began selecting his subjects from émigré utopia, Afro-British social consciousness, British identity, and working-class life.

Faisal Abdu’Allah graduated from the Royal College of Art, he was awarded his Ph.D. in 2012, for his dissertation; ‘Mirror to my Thoughts’, under the supervision of the artist Gavin Turk (YBA) and is cited in over 50 publications. He has exhibited at Tate Modern, Studio Museum Harlem, Serpentine Gallery, 55th Venice Biennale and The Royal Academy and his works are in the collections of, Tate Britain; The Victoria & Albert Museum; CAAM; National Maritime Museum, British Arts Council and The Chazen Museum. Abdu’Allah was awarded, First Prize at Tallinn Print Triennial, Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant, and the Romnes Faculty Award. Abdu’Allah recently appeared on Robert Elms discussing his last solo show Duppy Conqueror, 2018. Recently, he exhibited at Aston Hall in, Walls Have Ears: 400 Years of Change  and has been commissioned by The Mayor’s Office and Create London for his project ‘Park Royals’, 2019.

Abdu’Allah is represented by Magnolia Editions, USA , and Autograph (ABP), UK. He maintains studios in London/Madison and currently resides in the USA.