damali ayo

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damali ayo
Author damali ayo at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn in 2010.jpg
damali ayo at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn 2010
Born (1972-02-26) February 26, 1972 (age 42)
Washington, D.C.
Occupation Writer, Speaker, Artist
Nationality American
Period 1999 – present
Genre Satire, memoir, short story
Notable works How to Rent a Negro (2005), Obamistan! Land without racism: Your Guide to the New America (2010)


damali ayo (born February 26, 1972) is an American author, conceptual artist, and performance artist. She is of African-American, English, Italian, and Native American descent. She prefers her name in lower case. Her work uses her personal stories in a range of mediums, including writing, art, radio, and performance.

Early life[edit]

damali ayo was born Damali Ayo Patterson, February 26, 1972 in Washington, D.C. She attended Sidwell Friends School from kindergarten through high school. She legally dropped her last name in 1995.

Ayo earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1990 from Brown University with a double concentration in Public Policy and American Civilization. While at Brown, ayo served as the director of the student-run Women In Prison Project, a community involvement project that placed undergraduate women as theatre instructors in the Rhode Island women's correctional facility. After college she spent time as a farmhand on a small farm in Pembroke, Maine. She returned to Providence where she worked as a house painter, then new-age book store clerk, before spending a year as the Program Director for the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), and three years as the co-director of their leadership camp program, Anytown. She moved to Chicago for six months, where she worked in a CD store. ayo moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1997 where she began making visual art, and co-founded defunkt theatre company. After establishing her career as a self-taught artist, she was invited to apply to Portland State University and earned a Master of Fine Arts in studio art in 2006. Her first book was published in 2005.


Memoir and stories[edit]

Ayo is currently seeking a publisher for her first memoir, an exploration of the changes that struck her life when she decided to become more feminine. Her official web site states:

“I was at the end of my rope as an over-ambitious, workaholic, almost-forty-and-still-single woman. A few women had told me that being more feminine was something I needed. Of course my feminist radar cringed, but I was exhausted and willing to try anything. Thank goodness I did. Over the course of the next year, my entire life changed. No area of my life was spared. The changes were unexpected and cascading, and at the end I emerged in a place I had not felt in a very long while...happy.” [1]

Race and racism[edit]

Although ayo's first art show contained a variety of works that explored everything from love to song lyrics, her work on racism became a popular focus of her career. Ayo often jokes that her first performance was when she integrated her school's all-white doll collection at the age of four.[2]

One of ayo's best known works is the web-art-performance rent-a-negro.com.[3] This satirical web site examines racism in the interactions between black and white people. The site employs parody and satire to engage the viewer in an artificial premise that one could rent a black person for their personal entertainment or to advance their social clout. This work, created in 2003 (the early days of internet art), received over 400,000 hits per day in its first month, and received global media attention.

Damali also created Flesh Tone, an art show/performance where she visited several paint stores and asked to have a paint mixed to match various parts of her body. She recorded the experiences and created a public radio story entitled "The Paintmixers" for Studio 360 about it.[4]

Ayo's first book, How to Rent a Negro,[5] was a satirical guidebook about race relations in the United States. It was granted a 2005 Honorable Mention in the Outstanding Book Awards from the Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights.[6] In 2006 the book was purchased by Coalition Films to be made into a movie.[7] The film was not made.

Ayo's second satirical book, Obamistan! Land without Racism: Your Guide to the New America[8] is a humorous exploration of what a post-racism country really could look like, and what domino effect the end of racism would have on the United States as a whole. It proposes that everything from pollution to political prisoners to how food is talked about would change.

Ayo's website now states:

“For many years, my art, speaking, and writing centered on the issue of racism. While this was important work and I was able to impact a lot of people, it did not allow me to share the entirety of my life experience in a way that was fulfilling to me.” [9]

Eco fashion[edit]

The July 2008 issue of Redbook magazine[10] reported that after a string of terrible on-line dates, ayo redirected her energies to "eco fitting" her house. In November 2007 damali started CROW Clothing, an eco-friendly clothing company that also provided resources on health and social justice. The company closed in November 2008 during the economic downturn.[11] She continues to support the spread of eco-friendly fashion and green living.

Personal life[edit]

damali currently lives in Los Angeles with her blind adopted rescue dog, Stevie.[citation needed]

Body of work[edit]

Books and stories: memoir[edit]

  • ayo is currently finalizing her first memoir, a document of how her life changed when she decided to become feminine.

Books: satire[edit]

  • How to Rent a Negro (2005)
  • Obamistan! Land without racism: Your Guide to the New America (2010)

Books: as contributor[edit]

  • How to Be Black by Bartunde Thurston (member of the “Black Panel”) (2012)
  • Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound by John Biewen (contributor) (2010)
  • Tipping the Sacred Cow: The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt, 1996-2007 by Brian Awehali (contributor) (2007)
  • Found II: More of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World by Davy Rothbart (interviewed) (2006)
  • The Sage Woman Cookbook (1998) (contributor)

Radio stories[edit]

  • Celebrate Obama but Acknowledge Us Too (2009)
  • This I Believe: The Potential for a New Life (2008)
  • Living Flag (2004)
  • Beethoven’s Fifth (2004)
  • The Paint Mixers (2003)
  • Me and the Golliwog (2003)
  • Trashed (2003)

Visual art solo shows[edit]

  • Yarn (2006)
  • Living Flag (2004)
  • Big-eyed Street Smarts (2004)
  • Playback (2003)
  • Flesh-tone Series #1: Skinned (2001)
  • Shift: We are not yet done (2001)
  • Migrations (2001)
  • This Hunger (2001)
  • The Little Black Dress Project (2000)
  • I keep looking for myself... (2000)
  • Speak (2000)
  • Untitled (1999)

Original performance[edit]

  • National Day of Panhandling for Reparations: Annual National Participatory Performance (2007-09)
  • Living Flag (2003)
  • Tow (2004)
  • American/Girl (2004)
  • Touch This (2002)
  • Miss the Girl (2002)
  • Equilibrium (2001)
  • Take It Off (2000)


  • rent-a-negro.com (2003)
  • You Can Fix Racism (2011)


  • Honorable Mention in the Outstanding Book Awards from the Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights.[6] (2005)
  • Silver Reel Award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.[12] (2005)
  • Drammy Awards for Set Design [13] (2003, 2001)
  • Second Prize Jurors' Award, Center on Contemporary Art (2002)


  1. ^ damali ayo Official Web Site
  2. ^ Bitch Magazine article
  3. ^ rent-a-negro.com
  4. ^ Flesh-Tone
  5. ^ damali on the O'Reilly Factor
  6. ^ a b Gustavus Meyers Center Honorable Mentions Books 2005
  7. ^ Coalition Films
  8. ^ Obamistan! Land without Racism: Your Guide to the New America
  9. ^ damali ayo Official Web Site
  10. ^ Redbook profile on damali ayo
  11. ^ CROW Clothing website
  12. ^ Federation of Community Broadcasters
  13. ^ Past Drammy Award Winners

External links[edit]