Stony Brook Matters

Stephanie Dinkins Named Inaugural Yayoi Kusama Endowed Professor of Art

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Professor Stephanie Dinkins, from Stony Brook University’s Department of Art, has been named the inaugural Yayoi Kusama Endowed Professor of Art in the College of Arts and Sciences. A transmedia artist who creates platforms for dialog about artificial intelligence (AI) as it intersects race, gender, aging, and our future histories, Professor Dinkins’ art practice employs emerging technologies, documentary practices, and social collaboration toward equity and community sovereignty.

Stephanie Dinkins
Stephanie Dinkins (Photo credit: Jay Adams)

The endowed professorship is named for Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese contemporary artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation, and is also active in painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. Her work is based in conceptual art and shows some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism. 

Professor Dinkins is part of a team comprised of faculty from the University of Michigan, Purdue, Georgia Tech, and the University of Maryland selected to receive a $4.8M grant from the The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a digital futures collaborative network.

“This grant puts Stony Brook in the mix of leading universities starting labs to creatively and critically engage questions of race and digital inequity,” said Professor Dinkins. “I am thrilled to bring hands-on, practice-based inquiry to such essential topics to campus. I am also excited to be a part of this powerful, multi-institutional digital futures collaborative.”

Recently named one of five inaugural recipients of The Knight Foundation’s new arts and tech fellowships to pursue creative ventures in artificial intelligence, digital fabrication, software, coding, or immersive technologies, Professor Dinkins is particularly driven to work with communities of color to co-create more inclusive, fair and ethical artificially intelligent ecosystems. Through her work, she is a connector of art, tech, social justice, and academic communities; her art practice has expanded to include public speaking and writing. Professor Dinkins was also elected as one of 60 2021 United States Artists Fellows — the storytellers, shapemakers, movement builders, and culture bearers practicing today — chosen for their bold artistic vision and significant impact.

“I’m thrilled that Professor Dinkins was selected as the inaugural Yayoi Kusama Endowed Professor of Art,” said Barbara Frank, associate professor and former chair of the Department of Art. “She is a remarkable artist and educator whose own work centers on inclusive and collaborative social practice. As such, one of Professor Dinkins’ strengths as an educator is the way she inspires students, encouraging them to collaborate with one another and to consider the importance of using art, technology, and the creative process to foreground the struggle for equality and social justice in their own emerging practice. As she has argued, when artists have the opportunity to contribute their unique skills and perspectives to the needs of their communities, they can be invaluable assets.” 

A still from Secret Garden
A still from Secret Garden

This past January, Professor Dinkins’ Secret Garden was one of the featured works at the Sundance Film Festival. The project is an immersive web experience that highlights the power and resilience in Black women’s stories. Its interactive audio vignettes tell a multi-generational narrative that incorporates past, present and future, inspired by Professor Dinkins’ own autobiographical and ancestral experiences.

I am honored by my colleagues’ confidence in naming me the first Yayoi Kusama Endowed Professor of Art at Stony Brook,” said Professor Dinkins. “The title will provide opportunities to foreground art practice as leadership, art practice as a hub and home for impactful cross-disciplinary research, and artists as change-makers that help others recognize and synthesize complicated concepts in nuanced ways on campus. I am also excited to deepen my work on Afro-now-ism and the use of intelligent technologies to encode care, compassion, and generosity into digital civic systems with the support this honor provides.” 

For her project, “Binary Calculations Are Inadequate to Assess Us,” Professor Dinkins received a 2021 Mozilla Foundation Creative Media Award for Black artists who use art to spotlight how AI can reinforce — or disrupt — systems of oppression. This project seeks to provide more open, interactive, and compassionate alternatives to supplant the exclusionary algorithms and datasets that currently impact our everyday lives. It proposes a data commons approach where anyone can contribute to a training dataset, and anyone can then use that dataset to power AI. The project models this approach by creating an open, BIPOC-focused database that then uses AI to generate artwork.

Her foray into writing includes a recent essay, “Afro-now-ism” featured in Noema magazine, in which she discusses the need, especially in light of COVID and the uprising against systemic racism, to reimagine our humanity, and reconstruct the idea of the human. According to Professor Dinkins, “Afro-now-ism is taking the leap and the risks to imagine and define oneself beyond systemic oppression. It is active resistance away from cynicism, disaffection and indifference toward constructively channeling energy today. For black people in particular, it means conceiving yourself in the space of free and expansive thought and acting from a critically integrated space, allowing for more community-sustaining work.” 

Professor Dinkins earned an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and is an alumna of the Whitney Independent Studies Program. She is a 2019 Creative Capital Grantee and a 2018/19 Soros Equality Fellow; past fellowships and residencies include Sundance New Frontiers Story Lab, Data & Society, Pioneer Works Tech Lab, NEW INC, Blue Mountain Center, The Laundromat Project, and Art/Omi. Professor Dinkins has been featured in The New York Times as an AI influencer, as well as in Apple Inc’s  “Behind the Mac” ad campaign, recognized for her research and community-centered efforts. Her art and ideas have been featured in Wired, Art In America, Artsy, Art21, Hyperallergic, the BBC, Wilson Quarterly and many popular podcasts.  Professor Dinkins exhibits and publicly advocates for equitable AI internationally.

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