2021 in Review: My First Book to the Smithsonian

Smithsonian AIB FUTURES exhibition. Photo credit: Albert Ting

In the TV series Hanna, the main character and her partner Marissa confront Max, a computer programmer, who provides information about a database that analyzes people under the age of 30 who may become a problem in the future. Hanna/Marissa want to bring the system down but Max tells them it won’t be easy because it’s generated by a “deep learning algorithm.”

Well, I also use deep learning A.I. to create art and this year I had several opportunities to share and showcase this work, including on the cover of my first full-length book, Techno-Vernacular Creativity and Innovation: Culturally Relevant Making Inside and Outside of the Classroom, which was published by The MIT Press. The portrait is of a former student.

Final book cover with A.I. art titled “Travora”

The goal of my book is to engage students from historically marginalized communities in culturally relevant and inclusive STEAM/maker education; and amplify the many ways that artists from these communities use STEAM. I often incorporate techno-vernacular creativity in my work with others.

Through a grant from the Mozilla Foundation, I collaborated with architect Vernelle Noel (mentioned in my book) and dancer Valencia James on a Carnival A.I. project. A highlight of this project is a web-based dance app that celebrates and engages movement and dance in and from Black and Caribbean communities.

Web-based Carnival A.I. dance app

This year, I researched racial bias in early film technology that carried over into facial recognition A.I., which has led to harmful technological designs, and how contemporary artists incorporate A.I. technology in their creative work to raise awareness and to mitigate against its harmful effects. I learned about specular reflection, an image quality that depends on two factors — shine and darkness. This led to my Gilded series of portraits: A few went viral and the image of Greg Tate was on the cover of his “celebration of life.”

Images from my “Gilded” series

Most of the “Gilded” images are of people who have passed away this year. These people have entertained, inspired, or touched my heart/spirit in some way. To create the images I had to make my own custom image styles, keeping specularity (shine) in mind when I used the A.I. I also minted and sold several other images as NFTs earlier this year.

From hic et nunc to objkt (NFT marketplaces)

Before this, I was commissioned by the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building to create 11 portraits of Featured Futurists behind trailblazing ideas of yesterday and today such as Buckminster Fuller, Alexander Graham Bell, Isamu Noguchi, Helen Keller, and Floyd McKissick. One of the ‘totems’ is a self-portrait (per their request).

Nine of the 11 images in the FUTURES exhibit
Dr. Barney Graham and Dr. Kizzmekia (Kizzy) Corbett in FUTURES and Time Magazine
Dr. Sheri Davis (friend) and my self-portrait at FUTURES

In addition to my first book, one of my essays was published in a special edition of the Journal of Visual Art Practice. Another essay inspired by my love of Prince, youth and culturally relevant making was published in Twenty Things to Do with a Computer Forward 50: Future Visions of Education Inspired by Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon’s Seminal Work.

As part of my work with the Lesley STEAM Learning Lab, I co-designed a dual-enrollment summer course for Somerville High School. Sixteen SHS students from diverse backgrounds came together to explore the combination of art, storytelling, artificial intelligence (A.I.), and robotics. Also, I created a series of Instructables projects for teachers, including Weaving a Storytelling Interface 2: Indigenous Making & Math that won an award earlier this month.

Art, A.I., & Robotics at Somerville High School
Series of Instructables projects

I received a Ford Global Fellowship. This program focuses on shared learning across issue areas, building and strengthening connections across borders, and developing a supportive, interconnected cohort from across a wide variety of sectors. My program kicked off in 2021 with several virtual and (hopefully) in person meetings planned in 2022.

My Ford Global Fellows profile

All-in-all 2021 has been a banner year for me. There have been several requests for talks, panels, and workshops, including for the U.S. Department of Education, National Art Education Association, Princeton University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, UC Berkeley, University of Southern California, Boston College, and Parsons. I joined the board of the Artisan’s Asylum and was a featured guest on Basic Black (PBS-WGBH).

And there’s more to come in 2022!

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Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.

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Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.

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