Ayana Zaire Cotton (she/they) is an anti-disciplinary artist and cultural worker from Prince George’s County, Maryland. They are currently based in Dawn, Virginia — tucked in between the ancestral lands of the Mattaponi and Youghtanund — answering the call to steward land that has been in their family for four generations. Braiding code, performance, and abstraction Ayana speculates and worldbuilds alongside science and technology. Sankofa is a word and symbol of the Akan Twi and Fante languages of Ghana which translates to, "go back and get". Centering a sankofa sensibility, they build databases as vessels holding seed data and experiment with shuffling algorithms to spin non-linear narratives. Ayana calls this methodology “Cykofa Narration”, generating new worlds using the digital and social detritus of our existing world — resulting in a storytelling aesthetic that embodies circular time and troubles human authorship. Through engaging with language, technology, and ecology, Ayana is cultivating a practice of remembering and imagining alternative modes of being and interspecies belonging.

School for Poetic Computation, Reading, Writing, and Compiling
New York, NY

Forested, Permaculture Design Certification
Bowie, MD

Flatiron School, Software Engineering Intensive
Washington, D.C.
2012 — 2015
University of Maryland, Innovation, Design and Society Major (BA)
College Park, MD

2011 — 2012
LIM College, Business Management Major
New York, NY

IN PROGRESS: Seeda School

Seeda PressCykofa: The Seeda Origin Story

2017 — 2018
Zaire Studio, POWEROTICA Collection
DISTRIKT Magazine, Art x Politics Issue
DISTRIKT Magazine, The Underground Issue



Kickin’ The Can, Group Exhibition
curated by Anisa Olufemi and R. Treshawn Williamson
ACRE Projects @ Drama Club
Chicago , IL
Rituals Here, Group Exhibition
visioned by Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo
Site Specific Activations in
Richmond, VA

E:17 Zines , Group Exhibition
Washington, D.C.

We Got Next: Young Contemporaries, Group Exhbition Curated by Deirdre Darden
CAH Gallery
Washington, D.C.
Ward 12, Group Exhibition
Halcyon House
Washington, D.C.

Annual Artist Residency
Visual Arts Center of Richmond
Richmond, VA

Wherewithal Project Grant
Washington Project for the Arts and Andy Warhol Foundation For The Visual Arts
Washington, D.C.
Ginkgo Creative Residency
Ginkgo Bioworks and Faber Futures
Boston, MA

Make Work Residency
Studio Two Three
Richmond, VA

Summer ‘21 Cohort
Recurse Center
New York, NY

Seed Summer Residency
Exodus School of Expression
Richmond, VA
Wherewithal Research Grant
Washington Project for the Arts and Andy Warhol Foundation For The Visual Arts
Washington, D.C.

Xenogenesis Salons
Institute for Contemporary Art
Richmond, VA

E:17 Zines
Washington, D.C.
Social Impact Artist in Residence Halcyon House
Washington, D.C.


Transcending Limitations, TEDxUMD


Zaire Studio Wire Arm Cuffs featured in When I Get Home Film, directed by Solange Knowles 

Free Style — The Best Looks at Afropunk Marched to Their Own Beat (featuring the Zaire Studio jumpsuit worn and customized by Anthony Prince), Vogue, By Rachel Hahn, Video by Mika Altskan and Matvey Fiks



Every Body’s a Teacher Now: Education as New Media and The Somatics of Engaged Pedagogy

The Thesis

We are in a transformative cultural moment where we are co-opting “social media” platforms and leveraging them as “educational media” platforms to engage in new forms of intimacy and mutual aid.  This new media is amplifying the truth that every body’s a teacher now, in the past, and in the future. We are in a generative moment.  Remember that cultural shift when Instagram launched and everyone scoffed, “Everyone’s a photographer now”? Well, that cultural shift uncovered some of the best image making talent of our time. We don’t have Instagram to thank for this, the Instagram project benefited from right place, right time, white, male, capitalist privilege. We owe thanks to community courage, the collective courage to show up to whatever platform was available and say, “Look what I made y’all!”, because that’s never easy under capitalism.

Now we’re witnessing another cultural shift in this moment of social distancing and uprising. We are using technology to create intimacy in the form of new media, educational media, via virtual workshops, resistance guides, and resource sharing.  My Instagram feed is less images and more graphics, more flyers, more toolkits, more curriculum. In recent years we’ve co-opted “social media” platforms, transforming them through sheer collective imagination and creative action, to “educational media” platforms. Through our radical imagination and voicing our emerging needs amidst late-stage capitalism we’ve adapted Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Tumblr, now Zoom etc. to hack mutual aid and open education schemes. We’ve used these digital platforms as landscapes to radicalize each other from the mountain tops, the valleys, and in between.  As it turns out, the curriculum is one of the only landscapes big enough for all the truths and questions 2020 is inviting us to hold and engage in.

Again, we do not have the makers of these social media platforms to thank for this, they did not design them to help us facilitate decentralized unlearning opportunities and resource sharing.  While we were adapting toward mutual aid, they were adapting toward surveillance capitalism1.  One silver lining in this virus of surveillance capitalism is how we have leveraged social media platforms, monstrous products designed to mine our consciousness for profit, into educational media platforms. We are adapting the networks to teach each other how to unlearn the very economic system and rules of engagement (the status quo) that originally built the networks. All while caring for each other.

A Reflection on Educational Media as New Media and Engaged Pedagogy 

In Teaching to Transgress2 bell hooks talks about an “engaged pedagogy”, one that acknowledges our body, our presence, our subjugation in the world, and understands we must teach toward liberation. She states, “Progressive, holistic education, “engaged pedagogy” is more demanding than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy. For, unlike these two teaching practices, it emphasizes well-being”.  An emerging, “engaged pedagogy” is another wisdom coming out of the “new” educational media I’m thankful for in this moment. We have seen our communities create lesson plans, frameworks, and virtual experiences that center collective care, well-being, and rest. Here I am thinking about Annika Hansteen-Izora3, Kamra Hakim4, Tricia Hersey5, adrienne maree brown6, Estelle Ellison7, the BUFU Collective8, and many more, as practitioners of an engaged pedagogy. And while their work is far from new, they’ve been doing this work pre-2020, the media they’re sharing and the adaptive modes of digitally organizing community feels particularly different and life saving in this moment. Not only are we crafting curriculum to distribute as a multi-slide post on Instagram, collaborating on web zines as textbooks, and leveraging Instagram Lives as classrooms, we are living out our radical imaginations through praxis — sowing the seeds of this collective wisdom in our daily lives like the dreamers and workers at Soul Fire Farm9.

The troubling irony is only after a global pandemic begins to kill Black folks at a disproportionate rate and highlight our environmental crisis, after historic unemployment rates accelerate our interrogation of labor and wage slavery, after a revolution re-ignited by public Black death has already begun — Instagram releases a new “guides” feature10. They launch with “Well-being Guides”, cannabalizing11 the work Black women and Black queer and trans folks have been doing on and off the platform for years. It’s no wonder who taught them — they’ve simply “discovered” our curriculums. But I do wonder, what’s the Instagram Guide for dismantling Facebook and redistributing the resources to the cultural workers and communities who inspired the new feature in the first place? We’re on our way.

A Way Forward

“Resistance that is random and isolated is clearly not as effective as that which is mobilized through systemic politicized practices of teaching and learning”

— Chandra Mohanty in On Race and Voice: Challenges for Liberation Education in the 1990s

Again, we showed up for our community and asked, “How can I help, how can I serve, what can I make, what can I share?”. This collective “showing up” seems to be evolving into the questions, “What can I learn?” and “What can I teach?”. The cultural transformation toward education is going to inspire the next cycle of “Everyone’s a ______ now” cynicism, but this time it’s “Everyone’s a teacher now”. How beautiful! Unfortunately with every cultural transformation, there are people who mislead and take advantage of the moment solely for personal gain. But this movement of information access and mutual aid can not center cynicism and individualism. Community organizers and cultural workers are powering a new genre of connection: educational media. A genre whose form and function are being worked on and worked out in real time.

“Share the vulnerability” is a pedagogy principle I have adapted from Teaching to Transgress where hooks says, “When education is the practice of freedom, students are not the only ones who are asked to share, to confess.” We must emphasize sharing vulnerability and collective care as the praxis of engaged pedagogy. That is to say we must translate the teachings, shared ideas, and values from “educational media” into our daily lives, into our daily care, into our daily healing. We do this through a deep commitment to teaching and learning, a deep commitment to sharing and massaging our way out of silence12. Our current resistance becomes praxis as we commit to every body being a teacher, now.  Hooks frames, “education as the practice of freedom”, when done with the whole body, whole heartedly, teaching also becomes the practice of radical love. A way forward.

bell hooks slide from Code Societies Winter 2020 organized by Melanie Hoff


1. Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. New York: PublicAffairs, 2019
2. hooks, bell. Teaching To Transgress: Education As The Practice Of Freedom. New York : Routledge, 1994.
3. Hansteen-Izora , Annika.
4. Hakim, Kamra.
5. Hersey, Tricia.
6. brown, adrienne maree.
7. Ellison, Estelle.
8. The BUFU Collective.
9. Soul Fire Farm.
10. Hutchinson, Andrew. Instagram Adds New ‘Guides’ Profile Section to Help users Connect with Resources and Products. Social Media Today: May 18, 2020
11. CASSANDRA TALKS #2: Featuring a conversation between Kandis Williams, artist Hannah Black, and Manuel Arturo Abreu on cannibalism, TikTok, 2 dimensional design, and the Chitlin Circuit. Recorded for the occasion of the CASSANDRA PRESS exhibition at Printed Matter in January 2020

12. Lorde, Audre. The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007