HIGH FIVE: ICA Associate Curator Amber Esseiva


Amber Esseiva is a bit obsessed with research.

It’s that love of research, annotation, and collaborative learning that inspired the upcoming program Public Annotations (launching early-June 2021). Part of the ICA’s Public Study series of programming, Public Annotations seeks to reorient curatorial and artistic research by inviting people to read and digitally respond to key texts for upcoming shows via open-access PDFs.

We asked Esseiva about the project’s beginnings, what Public Study means to her, and what media she’s consuming when she’s not working.

How did the idea for Public Annotations come about?

Public Annotations came about for two reasons. First, as a researcher in service to art and artists, I have always been thinking about how the research process could become more transparent and collaborative. Research–especially within the humanities–is an insular process held within libraries and archives. In order to access scholarly databases, you usually need to be enrolled in a university or institution, which requires some burdens such as tuition, debt, and service. Of course, public libraries have free archives, but nonetheless this process is usually done in isolation. So in March 2020, when the pandemic’s effects on daily life became a reality, I started to think about the relationship between lockdown and the isolation that is natural to research. The lockdown made the idea of opening up research with others even more urgent to me, and thus inspired the development of Public Annotations both as a project and also an institutional logic.


Public Annotations is a program strand under the Public Study umbrella. Can you tell us a little about the Public Study approach to programming?

Public Study is about decentering expertise, making the research process–which is the beginning of the commissioning process–accessible and available to all who choose to engage. The program is really an ethos that translates into a logic where all the thoughts, conversations, and references are laid out on the table for all to see. It’s also about making the texts and references free and accessible to people who don’t have access to academic databases like JSTOR or WorldCat.


Are there any specific readings you’re excited to see people annotate?

Yes! Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study; Christina Sharpe’s text on Black annotation from In the Wake: On Blackness and Being; K. Wayne Yang’s Sustainability as Plantation Logic, Or, Who Plots an Architecture of Freedom?; and Canisia Lubrin’s The Dyzgraphxst are a few that I am really excited about. They get to the heart of Public Annotations as a project that is trying to define itself outside of institutions and practices that are centered on exploitation, mediocrity, and control.


What do you hope people get out of this project?

I hope that people get a sense of what it feels like to research and think collaboratively. I also hope that people have a good time annotating texts and witnessing the process between us and artists.


Outside of work, what media are you currently consuming?

Since my work is what I love to do, it’s hard to separate the two. Canisia’s book The Dyzgraphxst is something I always go back to. There is usually some sort of Elena Ferrante book on my nightstand. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with the Euphoria box set produced by A24 which breaks down all the episode and character development. It’s like the research for the show in a series of beautifully designed books. I’ve been thinking a lot of the power of consuming things through series and episodes, so this really resonated with me. I’ve also been loving all the programming done by The Sojourner Project: A Black Studies Mobile Academy, the Carpenter Center, and of course all the readers and classes produced by Kandis Williams’ Cassandra Press.


If you’re interested in learning more about Public Study and Public Annotations, Amber is moderating a discussion with artist Harold Mendez, Christina Sharpe, Jamillah James, and Gean Moreno on Wednesday, May 12. Click here to learn more.