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Shaka McGlotten Receives Grant for “Black Data” project

The $50,000 Creative Capital Grant funds their research on big data and artists of color.

Imagine computer software that claims to predict who will commit a crime. Or artificial intelligence trained to detect faces of individuals who have transitioned, or to determine whether someone is gay—with up to 91% accuracy using images from a dating website.

We don’t need to imagine because it’s already here.

These are just a few of the interesting finds social anthropologist Shaka McGlotten (they/them), associate professor of media studies, has discovered as they research their new book, Black Data. With this manipulation of big data, comes the possibility of discrimination in ways we can only begin to contemplate, and the 2016–18 Kempner Distinguished Professor is particularly interested in how artists of color are dealing with these themes.

The idea for the project, McGlotten explains, stems from the basic question, “How is big data impacting people of color and members of the LGBTQ community?”

The Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant program would like to know the answer as well. Last week, McGlotten’s project received a prestigious $50,000 grant from the organization, which supports writers whose work addresses contemporary visual art and aims to ensure that critical writing remains a valued mode of engaging the visual arts.

The award came as a bit of a surprise. “Of course, I feel enormously grateful, and lucky! I was somewhat surprised at the award, too, as I thought applying for an arts writers grant was a bit of a stretch for an anthropologist, even though both of my projects focus on the work of artists.” (They’re also writing a second book simultaneously about drag.)

McGlotten credits students with informing their research and writing. “It’s not just that my research finds its way into the classroom; the classroom finds its way into my research! The students have given me ideas, been willing to talk to me about my work, and let me field test my projects with them! These interactions always find their way into my work, and I am so honored to be able to learn alongside them.”

Also author of Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect, and Queer Sociality, McGlotten spent last April through September as a resident fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude, which, too, had an impact. “The conversations I had over those five months helped me to rethink my own research and writing practices. As a result, both of my current projects will take very different shapes than I originally thought.”

McGlotten expects Black Data to be finished in 2019.