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Ayoka Chenzira

Ayoka Chenzira was born on November 8, 1953, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Paul and Bernice Wilson. Chenzira was reared by her mother who owned a beauty parlor in the building where they lived in north Philadelphia. Pennsylvania. Chenzira played the cello, field hockey and studied ballet for a number of years. She attended private boarding school during high school. After graduation, she attended The College of New Rochelle in Westchester, New York, where she studied film and photography. Chenzira received her M.A degree in education from Columbia University and her B.F.A. degree in film production from New York University, where her thesis piece was Syvilla: They Dance to her Drum, a short film that documented the African American concert dancer, Syvilla Fort, who was her dance teacher.

As the chair of the department of media and communication arts at the City College of New York, Chenzira managed programs in advertising, public relations, journalism, film and video. She also co-created the City College of New York’s first M.F.A in media arts production graduate program.

Chenzira is a prolific film artist whose works include features, performance art, documentaries, experimental productions and animation. In fact, she is considered the first African American female animator. In 2002, Chenzira was invited to serve as the first William and Camille Cosby Endowed Professor in the Arts at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she is creator and director of the Digital Moving Image Salon (DMIS) and teaches a year long research and production course. She also created and served as co-director of Oral Narratives and Digital Technology, a joint venture between Spelman College and the Durham Institute of Technology (DIT), where she designed and taught workshops primarily for Zulu students at DIT.

Chenzira lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and has one adult daughter.

Accession Number

A2006.156

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/10/2006

Last Name

Chenzira

Maker Category
Schools

Gesu School

Stephen Girard School

Philadelphia High School for Girls

Lourdesmont School

New York University

Teachers College, Columbia University

Georgia Institute of Technology

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Ayoka

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

CHE04

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Amalfi Coast

Favorite Quote

That's What I'm Talking About.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

11/8/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sushi, Tuna Fish Sandwiches

Short Description

Animator, communications professor, film professor, and film director Ayoka Chenzira (1953 - ) created the first Master of Fine Arts degree program at the City College of New York, and is the William and Camille Cosby Endowed Professor in the Arts at Spelman College.

Employment

‘Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum’

Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People

On Becoming a Woman: Mothers and Daughters Talking to Each Other

Secret Sounds Screaming: The Sexual Abuse of Children

The Lure and The Lore

Zajota and the Boogie Spirit

Red Carnelian Films

The City College of New York

Alma's Rainbow

In The Rivers of Mercy Angst

Sentry at the Gate: The Comedy of Jane Galvin Lewis

Snowfire

Flying Over Purgatory

Spelman College

Favorite Color

Burnt Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ayoka Chenzira's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ayoka Chenzira lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls growing up in a diverse apartment in North Philadelphia

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her mother's apartment in North Philadelphia

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ayoka Chenzira describes Thanksgiving celebrations with her family

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ayoka Chenzira describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her childhood games and activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ayoka Chenzira describes the demographics of Philadelphia's Gesu School

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ayoka Chenzira remembers buying stockings for her First Communion

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ayoka Chenzira describes the nuns at Philadelphia's Gesu School

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ayoka Chenzira remembers an accident on the playground

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her interest in Catholic rituals

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her childhood personality and her mother's parenting

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her mother's emphasis on healthy meals

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her outdoor and cultural activities as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls a lesson about racism

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her ballet lessons

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ayoka Chenzira remembers Philadelphia's Jewish community

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls transferring to Steven Girard Elementary School

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her experiences at Steven Girard Elementary School

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls her community's reaction to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's death

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls how her artistic interest emerged at Philadelphia High School for Girls

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her high school experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls developing her artistic identity at Lourdesmont School

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls her experiences at Lourdesmont School

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Ayoka Chenzira remembers her decision to study filmmaking

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ayoka Chenzira reflects upon Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her perception of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ayoka Chenzira shares her opinion of Malcom X as a young woman

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls attending The College of New Rochelle in New York

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ayoka Chenzira describes film education at New York University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her artistic influences

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls her film professors, Peter Glushanok and Haig Manoogian

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls learning animation to create her film, 'Hair Piece'

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her decision to attend Columbia University's Teachers College

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her documentary, 'Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls working as a video editor to fund her films

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her daughter and late husband

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ayoka Chenzira recalls learning animation and working with Byllye Avery

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her film, 'Hair Piece,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her film, 'Hair Piece,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ayoka Chenzira reflects upon African American women's hair trends

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ayoka Chenzira describes the negative response to her film, 'Hair Piece'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ayoka Chenzira explains why she does not consider herself the first African American woman animator

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her film, 'Secret Sounds Screaming: The Sexual Abuse of Children'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her film, 'The Lure and The Lore'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her film, 'Zajota and the Boogie Spirit'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her film company, Red Carnelian Films

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her international film projects and her teaching career

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her film, 'Alma's Rainbow'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her film, 'In The Rivers of Mercy Angst'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about two of her short films

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her interactive film project, 'Her,' with her daughter

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her stage play, 'Flying Over Purgatory,' pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her stage play, 'Flying Over Purgatory,' pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ayoka Chenzira describes the courses she teaches at Spelman College

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her professional and personal goals

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ayoka Chenzira reflects upon her life

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ayoka Chenzira describes her concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ayoka Chenzira shares her advice to aspiring filmmakers

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ayoka Chenzira shares a message for future generations

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Ayoka Chenzira talks about her admiration for African American filmmakers

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Ayoka Chenzira reflects upon her legacy and how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

9$8

DATitle
Ayoka Chenzira recalls developing her artistic identity at Lourdesmont School
Ayoka Chenzira talks about her interactive film project, 'Her,' with her daughter
Transcript
The teachers at the school, once again, was there any teachers who, that you looked up to, or wanted to emulate?$$Well, let's see, I went to Girls High [Philadelphia High School for Girls, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] for two years, and then I didn't want to go there anymore. I was in some ways bored, struggling to grow up and find my grounding in that I was growing up with a single parent who was very opinionated, very structured, could be dogmatic in some ways, and there was a lot of tension in the house. And I just said I don't want to do this, so I went away to boarding school [Lourdesmont School, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania] for the last two years in upstate Pennsylvania. And it was in many ways a saving grace, because I had a kind of freedom and space that I had not imagined before. And I began to study things that I would not ordinarily be exposed to. So, for example, I was taking courses in anthropology, which were--at one point, I thought that I wanted to be an anthropologist. I wanted to be an anthropologist. I was taking early psychology and sociology courses in high school, I was starting to explore speaking French and Italian, and it was like the world was opening up to me in a very different way. And I was getting a lot more comfortable in my skin, because I was also around other young women who felt as though they were the fish out of water, as well. So it was a--it was an interesting community. Yeah.$$So in this, in this particular school, you start to explore the different things that you are coming to yourself. Okay. Becoming--and you had already decided that the arts was gonna be a part of your life, what role did the arts--I understand what you're saying about the classes that you took, sociology, but where were--$$Where did the arts fit in? I discovered that I really like to do things with my hands. And that doing things with my hands seemed to trigger information for me in terms of being able to put pieces of puzzles together, in, in terms of life, in terms of other people's lives, in terms of just figuring out some things. So I learned--there was a young woman who taught me how to knit and crochet, and it was, it was like doing hours and hours of meditation, it was wonderful. I got to the point where I could do it and not even think about it, and, you know, make very interesting things. But I think, more importantly, than the things that I was making, my mind got a chance to work things out. Both this movement with my hands and physicalizing something, there was a sense of comfort and peace that came to me in a way that I had not known before. And so if I was angry or upset about something, if I began to work with my hands, with knitting and crocheting, the feeling would go away, it would dissipate. The same thing if I was working on painting, or working on sculpture, or I played guitar for a while. These things, I began to become more aware of the impact that creating something had on my own psyche.$And 'Her'?$$'Her.'$$Tell me about it.$$'Her' is in post-production right now, I'm really excited about 'Her.' 'Her' was produced by my daughter Haj [Haj Chenzira-Pinnock], and her business partner Niaja [ph.]. They have started a company and they said, "Would you write and produce--write and direct something for us." I said, "Sure." We talked about all of the things that it could be and what it ended up being was a science fiction meets social commentary. Basically, you have this black woman who lives in another universe and she's a computer generated image, and her world is all computer generated. We worked with a wonderful artist here, William Hudson. And this character, her body is made up of images of women all over her body. That's--and she's out riding her star and she begins to see cracks in the universe, and she hears this cacophony of sound coming from Earth, and she realizes that these awful sounds are causing these fissures and cracks in her world. And she gets the approval from the old women in her community, and she jumps through this black hole and morphs into a human being and lands on Earth. And she basically discovers what, what the problem is, why she's hearing these voices yell and scream, and it has to do with these three iconic figures who represent a particular kind of male patriarchy that is from the personal level to the political level eroding away women's rights, and she deals with them to heal the universe.$$Wow.$$So that will be finished this month, and they did a, they did a really good producing job.$$That's great. And your daughter also played in some of your films, right?$$Yeah, she was in 'Alma's Rainbow,' and she was also in, 'In The Rivers of Mercy Angst.' So she's grown up to be a filmmaker.$$Like her mother.