Entering the Afrovoid: Anastasia Warren
Anastasia Warren (she/they) aka “Voidth0t,” is an interdisciplinary artist exploring Afrovoidism—a train of thought that imagines the spectrum of Black life as it is placed on impossibility and possibility. Informed by personal research and seeking out Black scholars, Warren’s practice combines performance, ceramics, video, and writing to connect deeply into their limitless void space. In tandem with their artistic practice, Anastasia has leaned into activism, particularly surrounding housing insecurity in the Bronx. When Anastasia thinks of herself as an artist, she considers the opportunities to remind others of what’s possible in revolution.
We first met in high school through a film photography course at ICP, but since then you’ve gone to express your creativity in different ways. What mediums are you working in now?
Photography was my first exploration of light, reflection, and performance, whether that was as a witness or as an actor. It was something about perspective, contact, and gaze that I was curious about. I feel like the work that I do now, which is more geared towards performance and sculpture, is still looking at the things that I make with a 360 perspective. So I guess really learning how to look through photography is definitely part of my process—especially now as I’m making more moving images.
The work that I’m doing now is an expression of this original idea I’ve been developing for the past couple of years called Afrovoidism. The Afrovoid is this destination and a train of thought that imagines the spectrum of black life as it is placed on impossibility and possibility—thinking of the extremes that Blackness has existed within.Through thinking about the extremes that are influenced by my perception of history, theory, and my own experiences as a Black person; I work from these ideas and find a way to talk about a moment in history or an experience that I’ve had through an object, performance, writing, whatever, and try to have a visceral-like experience. That’s what I’m moving towards now—trying to have a holistic experience of my work, my life, and all of the wisdom laid out before me.
Did you experience anything that led you to conceptualize Afrovoidism? Where does it come from?
I wrote a paper for my BFA thesis that was in opposition to the institution of a thesis and the institution of art school as a white supremacist institution. This thesis was me trying to break this fourth wall, which involved a lot of personal research, seeking out Black scholars and literature that would explain this phenomenon of erasure and how the microcosm of art school represents so many of the systems that continue to erase people from history. In my research, writers like Saidiya Hartmann, Fred Moten, Adrian Piper, and Robin D.G. Kelley influenced both filling in some of the historical gaps and explaining the phenomenon of identity.
Within this thesis paper, I was experimenting with performative writing, and I wanted to make it something that you had to read aloud or perform to experience. I was thinking about awareness and the heightened awareness or perceived paranoia that Black people have in predominantly white spaces and institutions. Considering that and considering these other exceptional things like these accomplishments, these revolutions, and the poetics of revolution that put me in this void space, I would ask myself: Where can that all fit? Where can this infinity well of lives exist? What corner of the world based in reality can Blackness exist? The Afrovoid is kind of an answer to that question because there are no limits in the void—it’s a boundless space and put on a timeline that we can actually perceive.
You’re also making ceramics and you also had some performances, including one at H0L0. How do these different avenues of creation come together to connect within the void?
One of the things that I scooped up is this persona, Voidth0t, and looking at thot as “that hoe over there” in the void. I also thought about how generative the words within thot are and kind of playing with the language of thot and thought. This performance at H0l0 was the first time that I performed live as Voidth0t. I did a residency in Leipzig, Germany for six months, and that was the first time I experimented with live performance. Voidth0t is this one expression of a hyper-sensualized, hyper-sexualized idea of the void and the way those things evoke pleasure.
I’m drawn to clay as this really performative material because, in a lot of ways, it’s like the material and the source. It’s this material that I think imitates flesh in both density, texture, and flexibility. I kind of approached clay and ceramics like this metaphor for self-actualization, and I think that it connects to my experience as a Black person—which is important for me to express because it’s something that I’m empowered by.
Going back to when you first started performance, you said you initially explored it within your residency in Leipzig. Can you share more about your experience there?
There was definitely some culture shock because I was the first Black student from my alma mater to receive a stipendiary for the residency. l felt like there was an allure to depersonalize my work for it to be palatable or relatable. As the first Black student that received this stipendiary, I wasn’t prepared for how my works would be received, but I wanted to make them anyway. I’m not bending to process that with any white person, and I felt myself continuously being asked to bend in that way. That was an exhausting and isolating experience at times, because in a lot of ways, it felt like I was starting from square one and explaining how our institutions uphold white supremacy.
In Germany, there’s this major idea of color blindness and promoting homogeneity, which is harmful and reimplements the systems that lead to more hostility. It was really sobering to experience that, and there were times where I would talk about racism and how my work is considering that, because everyone is making work about something they’ve experienced, right? That’s the work that we rally around; work that’s coming from an authentic place. There were conversations I had about my work where I could detail the system of racism and state sanctioned violence, and be told it was similar to homophobia or sexism. It doesn’t need to be filtered through any of those other things that can exist under that umbrella. There was a reluctance to name that at times from people that I encountered in the art world over there.
In this residency and in many residencies, you have visiting curators who will come and take a look at your work and maybe have something to say about it. But during many of my studio visits, I started to realize it was not helping me and just wasting my time. I’m practicing how to talk about my work but to who?! To somebody who doesn’t know who David Hammons is, has all of the access to know that name, but chooses not to? It was frustrating.
Since coming back to the U.S., do you feel that you’ve evolved as an artist?
I was there for eight months, and I got back in September 2019 broke and depressed. A lot of my development as an artist was shifted to my development as a person and emotional development. I was living with my family again, which is an experience that so much of my life as an artist has been trying to process, including my childhood in the Bronx, and asking myself why the Bronx is like this? Why does it feel like everybody there is so disempowered? In my immediate view, there’s something that’s not here. There’s something that has been taken away from this place. That’s a big question that I posed to myself without an answer, so I returned home having to deal with that head-on. What I mean by ‘why is this like this’ is: Why are there slumlords? Why isn’t there dignified housing? Why is there trash that’s six feet high in front of my building? It makes sense because of late-stage capitalism and how things that should be human rights like dignified housing are luxuries. I feel that I returned to the source of a lot of my interest in the void and figuring out those questions.
A big focus for me became housing insecurity and what it is to live under that. I spent a lot of time working my way through that very personally, then when the pandemic shutdown happened, it was clearer than ever who is the most vulnerable in my building and on my block. During that time, me and some other volunteers started tenant organizing, and led this free food drive for people in our building. For the first time in my lifetime, I experienced people coming together, seeking each other out, and feeling supported. It was really inspiring, and that work led to rallying for a cancel rent campaign within our building that would be a part of a nationwide movement to cancel rent. When I think about myself as an artist, I think about how I can make a resource from all of my research and use it to remind myself and others of what’s possible in revolution.
You previously told me that the Bronx is one of your inspirations—can you share some other inspirations of yours and how they connect to your practice?
At the beginning of this year I was working at this strip club, and I love to dance. Dancing is the easiest way for me to step into these experiences I’m talking about—about the visceral and full presence. In thinking about hypersexuality, my experiences as a Black femme, my experience of housing instability, and knowing myself as a resource; I started working at this strip club because I looked at it as an opportunity to build my savings and learn something about performance. I also learned about all of the strippers, burlesque performers, and sex workers that have set the tone for sex culture, safety, and consent. This work is very important, very sacred, and very necessary. As someone who always admired it, I figured that I would try it for myself, and that was the beginning of Voidth0t. That was one of the places where I really honed in on this persona and performed this persona around what I perceived to be a perception of my identity. It was a rehearsal stage, a source of income, a real learning space for me, and a community space for me.
In my experience, the compassion with which the SW community can hold space for each other and redistribute resources for each other, themselves, and greater communities is really one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever experienced. This is one of the first times I’ve talked about it in a public sphere because of all the taboo and respectability around who a SW is and why somebody does SW. People don’t know shit but will open their mouths just to talk. I think it’s important for me to be vocal about that.
Who are some artists or specific works that have impacted you over the last year?
I would say that one artist whose practice has inspired me is Vaginal Davis. She continues to live and work in Berlin, but she’s originally from LA and was part of the queer-punk movement in the 70s. I’m still finding out more about her work, but she enters that space as this flamboyant drag queen which sounds redundant; but when I say flamboyant, I think of the risk, persistence, and ferocity with which she made her films.
David Hammons and Adrian Piper—I kind of have on this balanced scale within me. They’re two artists whose installations and performances are smart, evocative, and confrontational. There are themes within their work that I really admire and try to emulate in my own work. Simone Leigh—she’s an incredible ceramicist and one of the first Black ceramicists I was privy to. American Artist— they’re an incredible artist dealing with technology and what I think of as a digital void space. Shellyne Rodriguez and her practice as it relates to the Broke Baroque.
Writers like Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, Adrienne Maree Brown, Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run with the Wolves, and Robin D.G Kelley’s Freedom Dreams. Music is a big part of my process and something I love about life, so people like Dee Diggs, Fred P, Nkisi, Debby Friday, Dreamcrusher, Bbymutha, Kush Jones, DJ Stingray, Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Blacknuss. The moments I had with their music and selections, and the way their sounds have brought me even deeper into that transcendent space of dance is really inspirational to me.
What’s a moment in your career that you’re proud of?
One of my proudest moments would be co-organizing and moderating this panel, “Erasure by Exclusion: How Art Schools and Institutions Uphold White Supremacy.” I organized this with alum Shellyne Rodriguez, and we were both in the same program at SVA at different points. That was in my junior year of school, and it was another culmination of all of that working against the grid I felt I was doing when it came to arts education and trying to research and be made aware of Black contributions to art and the avant-garde. That panel meant doing research to ask questions and facilitate a conversation that took place with Bill Gaskins, Cheryl R. Riley, Robins J. Hayes, and Tomashi Jackson. I continue to reference the conversation that was had, and it was a moment where for me, I was creating opportunities for myself and for these people who are incredible artists and thinkers who are widely admired. We were hoping that 60 people would come and almost 300 came. It continues to be something that I return to when I think about what I can be capable of organizing and what it is to create spaces for discussion.
Where do you see yourself and your practice in the next few years?
I see myself really honing my skills in ceramics. That’s something I’ve been self-taught in, and have sought out people to help me learn more about ceramics and the history, properties, and techniques involved in handling clay. I can see myself really dedicated to that material in a way that looks at all the traditions that have significance in my own roots as someone from the Caribbean diaspora. My dad’s side of the family is from Dominica, and I recently connected with a mentor who’s from Dominica and is a master potter. I would really like for the next few years to build my studio potter experience and practice, and to eventually be able to teach beginners in clay. I also see myself leaving New York because of the affordability for artists being non-existent or very difficult. I’m definitely thinking of where to relocate and thinking about the idea of Afrovoid, and what corner of the world I can comfortably exist in.
Can you leave some parting advice for artists?
Have a keen awareness of the ways that capitalism, audience, and social media influence the way you think about presenting yourself and the things you make—really believe that those things don’t matter.
Prioritize the things that put you in that trance state—the things that make you believe in life on all different levels, and respect your process. There’s so much pressure to be influenced and to be influential, and to always live with the ghosts of an audience watching what you do when it’s not even ready. This idea of completion being more important than the experience you have making something, just keep a keen awareness of that, because once I’m in a state where I’m letting the audience fall by the wayside, I do my best work. I’m able to do the things that make me feel fulfilled and be present within myself, and that’s a priority for me— just protecting my energy, my ideas, and having a sacredness when I’m making things. Don’t ever deprioritize the sacredness of making things.