Kiyan Williams

My recent body of work unearths diasporic histories and trans/gressive subjectivities. I excavate residue from sites of loss within the African Diaspora: slave castles and sugar plantations in the Caribbean, the archives of a Black gay artist who died of HIV/AIDS, the last addresses of my great grandmother who migrated from St. Croix to Harlem in 1934, and a low-income residential building in West Harlem demolished by commercial developers. To borrow the words of Saidiya Hartman, “I am intent on tracing an itinerary of destruction.” Working primarily in sculpture, video, and performance, I am attracted to materials that are silent witnesses to the historical and ongoing dispossession of Black people in America.


“Dirt Eater,” a sculpture and video, draws on the act of geophagy, consuming dirt, practiced among enslaved Black people in the Caribbean and American South. I referenced 19th century drawings of enslaved Black people wearing punishment masks for eating dirt, which was prohibited under the slave regime. The sculpture, made from soil and bricks from a former sugar plantation, memorializes the countless, unnamed, and unknowable deceased who resisted their status as commodities by practicing geophagy.


My practice is often one of tending to and grieving the dead (“The dead do not like to be forgotten, especially those whose lives had come to a violent end,” writes M. Jacqui Alexander). I am driven by an impulse to recover the residue of Black loss and transform it into objects that contend with collective amnesia, systemic erasure, and social neglect. For example I made “Patron Saint of the Boy Girls, Banji Cunts, and Hood Fags” as a way to grieve the persistent murders of Black trans, queer and gender nonconforming people. Similarly, “Reflections,” a series of live performances and a video installation, exhumes the voice of Jessie Harris, a Black genderqueer artist who was featured as B-roll in Marlon Riggs’ seminal film Tongues Untied.

I often work with soil as material and metaphor for trans/gressive embodiment. In “An Intimate Encounter with Dirt” and “Meditation on Gender and the Process of Unbecoming” soil becomes an extension of my flesh and a means to obscure the meaning imposed on my body. My work with soil seeks to disrupt dualisms within a Euro Western social order that undergird racialized and gendered violence (i.e. clean/dirty, proper/improper, human/nature).




2019 MFA in Visual Arts, Columbia University, New York, NY
2013 BA with Honors in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Stanford University, Stanford, CA


2019 “Meditation on the Making of America.” The Shed, New York, NY

2017 “Alt(e)ar.” Studio Theater, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA


2019 Open Call . The Shed, New York, NY
Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall. The Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY Columbia MFA Thesis Exhibition curated by Regine Basha. Wallach Art Gallery, New York, NY
In Practice: Other Objects curated by Gee Wesley. SculptureCenter, New York, New York

2018 The Least Orthodox Goddess curated by Jasmine Wahi. Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York, NY
feel that other day running underneath this one curated by Sarah O’Keefe. Times Square Space, New York, NY Pride & Loss curated by Zanele Muholi. Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York, NY
Columbia MFA First Year Exhibition curated by Natalie Ball. Wallach Art Gallery, New York, NY

2017 New Half Full: Qulture Collective, Oakland, CA Queer Exceptionality: SOMArts, San Francisco, CA

2015 Squirts: New Voices in Queer Performance, La Mama Experimental Theater Club, New York, New York 2014 Raw Honey, La Mama Experimental Theater Club, New York, NY

2018 Reflections a t In Response: Scenes. The Jewish Museum, New York, NY

An Intimate Encounter With Dirt , Wallach Art Gallery, New York, NY 2017 Reflections , The 8th Floor, New York, NY

Unearthing, Project For Empty Spaces, Newark, NJ
Black W/holes, The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art,, San Francisco, CA Unearthing, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

2016 Where Will The Poor Go , New York, NY
Unearthing (excerpt), HOT! Festival, Dixon Place, New York, NY

Growing Pains, SOMArts, San Francisco, CA 2015 GrowingPains, JACKTheater,Brooklyn,NY

Untitled , La Mama Experimental Theater Club, New York, New York 2014 Unearthing, LaMamaExperimentalTheaterClub,NewYork,NewYork

Trash and Treasure , New York, New York


2019 Wall-Floor Positions by Bruce Nauman, Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts, The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 2017 The Observatory with Doreen Garner, Paddles NYC, Sexual Fragments Absent , New York, NY
2016 The Messiah Complex by Nia Witherspoon, Performer, BRIC, Brooklyn, NY
2014 Shade Compositions by Rashaad Newsome, Performer, Steirischer Herbst Festival, Orpheum Theater, Graz, Austria

Knot b y Rashaad Newsome, Performer, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY 2013 The Symphonic Body by Ann Carlson, Performance Studies International Conference, Bing Concert Hall, Stanford, CA


2018 Teaching Artist, Sadie Nash Leadership Project, Rutgers University-Newark, Newark, NJ
Teaching Assistant for Concepts in Visual Art: Performance Course taught by Liz Magic Laser, Columbia University, New York, NY

2014-16 New Media and Online Communication Coordinator, Hetrick-Martin Institute, New York, NY 2012-14 Studio Assistant and Grant Writer, Rashaad Newsome Studio, New York, NY


2018 Queer Artist Fellowship, Leslie Lohman Gallery, New York, NY
Museum Education Practicum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY

2017 Visual Arts Scholarship, Columbia University School of The Arts, New York, NY New Jersey Council on The Arts Award, Trenton, NJ

Davis-Putter Scholarship, New York, NY

Astraea Foundation Global Arts Award, New York, NY
2016 Stanford Arts Institute Award, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

Trans Justice Funding Project Award, New York, NY,
2014 EMERGENYC Fellowship, Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics, New York University, NY, NY


2019 Visiting Artist Lecture, Portland State University, Portland, OR Artist Talk, Pratt Institute, New York, NY

Panel and Presentation, Queer Art/Queer Theory: In Conversation with Dr. Tavia Nyong’o, Queer Disruptions 3 Conference, Columbia University, New York, New York
Panel, Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs, Brooklyn, New York

2018 Artist Talk and Workshop, Grounding , Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Artist Talk, Reflections: Performing Black and Queer Archives, Allied Media Conference, Detroit, MI

2017 Panelist, Marlon Riggs & “No Regret”: Disclosure, Performativity, & Legacy: In Conversation with Ni’Ja Whitson and Dr. Tavia Nyong’o, The 8th Floor, New York, York

Guest Lecturer, Black Studies and the Black Radical Tradition Reading Group, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ Guest Lecturer, Intersectional Feminism and Performance Course, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY


2019 Curator, Trans/gression: An Evening of Performance Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of GLQ, Queer Disruptions Conference (QD3), Columbia University, New York, NY

2017 Organizer and moderator, Revolution ‘67 Film Screening and Discussion, Gallery Aferro, Newark, NJ


2019 In Practice: Other Objects Exhibition Catalogue, SculptureCenter, March 2019 2017 Meghan Allen, Artist Profile, BuzzFeed News, June 2017

Maya Harder Montaya, “Posture X Paper Celebrates the Gender-Fluid Future,” Paper Magazine and Posture Magazine, June 2017

Sarah Burke, Artist Profile, KQED, Feb 2017
2016 Magnus Rosengarten, “It Is Necessary To Be Able To Dream,” Contemporary& Magazine, Oct 2016