Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: The magic of melanin and a space for healing

Isabel Brandt, Ohio State third-year, Dance, minor in Education

Nov 09, 2020

Artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko stands on a stage with a pink fabric backdrop, wrapped in a gray silk sheet, wearing a metallic gold scarf, bejeweled crocheted beanie and gloves with bangle bracelets. In his left hand he holds what appears to be a rifle wrapped in sequined fabric

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko has become a familiar face here through his work as a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award recipient, and despite the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, he returned virtually to share his biomythographical film Chameleon. On October 21, 2020, the Wex hosted an online viewing of Kosoko’s film in addition to a discussion. Prior to the film’s streaming, I had the pleasure to interview Kosoko and discuss the underlying complexity of his work and its relation to personal growth and healing.

Kosoko uses the term biomythography to describe his film. He takes the concept from the great poet, thinker, and scholar Audre Lorde, who coined the term with the creation of her work entitled Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. A biomythography, as explained by Kosoko, is a blend of biographical, historical, and mythmaking themes. Labeling the film biomythography serves to introduce Kosoko’s original intentions for the work as well as the final product. At the beginning of the interview, Kosoko expressed to me the film’s role in rewiring and healing the personal trauma that has significantly impacted his life. Kosoko explained how Chameleon brought him on a journey he was not expecting, and that exploration allowed him to delve deeply and reflectively into himself. In regard to the overall project, Kosoko beautifully described the film as a “self-directed medicinal potion.”

Within the film, Kosoko uses his own poetry to tell personal stories of trauma while using visuals to examine and express his own identity. The poetic storytelling of the film introduces the heartbreaking death of Kosoko’s brother and other family members. While the storytelling of the film exhibits the seriousness of Kosoko’s trauma, he discussed how it was important for him to visually contrast that solemnity with beautiful and erotic images that uplift and evoke the spirit. In the film, the audience is invited into an intimate space where Kosoko contorts his body on a bed while fully wrapped in silk sheets. As Kosoko moves, the painful effects of his trauma are clear, but his body is accentuated under the sheets in an erotic way. As the film progresses, Kosoko also celebrates his identity as a Black and queer individual with beautiful clips of him dancing to the camera and singing at a piano. Shimmering gold and vibrant colors present in the costuming, lighting, and environment stunningly contrast the poignant stories of trauma, but also highlight Kosoko’s identity.

"In regard to the overall [Chameleon] project, Kosoko beautifully described the film as a 'self-directed medicinal potion.'"

During our conversation, Kosoko elucidated the significance of choosing chameleon as a title and a metaphor for the project. He explained how the extraordinary capabilities of a chameleon’s skin are due to its melanin, a fact that resonated with Kosoko in regard to the melanin in his own skin. “I always thought about flesh and Brown skin and dark skin as a kind of magic,” Kosoko said. “I remember as a young kid looking at my skin under the sun and seeing all of these other colors and prisms of light shining back up at me.” Kosoko connected this memory and thoughts of flesh to his desire to explore the iridescent abilities of his own skin. Kosoko also discussed how the chameleon needs to shape shift on many occasions in order to survive. Kosoko identified with this notion as well because of the times he has to adapt to certain environments as a Black individual in America. In the film, Kosoko really embodies the magic of what he calls melanated skin, meaning Black and prismatic, by centering images of Black joy and switching between different layers of his identity.

Kosoko’s Chameleon intricately weaves together intimate and stunning poetry and images to tell the story of his history and the complicated layers of his identity. Kosoko explained that this work allowed him to achieve personal growth and healing, and I wonder how his process can inspire all of us to do the same. By allowing for the exploration of personal identity and trauma, Kosoko has inspired me to trust that self-attention can provide a needed space for healing.

Kosoko will be present with the Wex in various outreach activities throughout the continuation of the season. In spring 2021, Kosoko will debut the next iteration of Chameleon.



This selection is part of Writing about the Performing Arts at Ohio State, an interdisciplinary student-led seminar during the 2020-21 academic year. With guidance from Department of Dance Professor Karen Eliot and the Wexner Center’s Alana Ryder (Manager, Public and University Programs) and Lane Czaplinski (Director of Performing Arts), students with backgrounds in dance, economics, math, microbiology, political science, psychology, statistics, and beyond will serve as ambassadors and advocates for the arts. As a cohort, they will approach broad theoretical and philosophical issues behind contemporary performance as well as questions about the roles of arts critics and of arts criticism, especially in the era of COVID-19 and racial equity and social justice movements.

For more information, please email Additional interviews and student writing will be presented here later in the academic year.