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Artist Emmai Alaquiva uses art to raise awareness and amplify deaf voices


By Carmen Gentile

In Season 2, Episode 5 of the Postindustrial Podcast, artist Emmai Alaquiva talks with host Carmen Gentile about the power of art to raise awareness, and a how a conversation with his daughter inspired him to create a public service announcement, “Unspeakable.” Alaquiva is an Emmy Award winner based in Pittsburgh.

There’s documentation that is done by journalists of significant events. And then there’s the type of documentation that you do from an artist’s lens. What makes your work different as an artist in documenting what’s happening?

They’re artists just like myself. We just may have different titles. There’s some exceptional photography of this movement, the Black Lives Matter movement. I like to call myself a cinematic poet or a photographic poet, because I like to tell poetry through my work. So if you were to watch a video that I will put together, I try to put it together carefully. Down the line 10, 20 years from now, it could be studied …as an account of what went on.

So there’s a level of artistic rigor that parallels, or that’s adjacent to the story that we want to tell. I just think we’re just indifferent compartments of executing that digital documentation.  I don’t work for any publication. So when I go out there to the protest, it’s from a genuine space of not having to get a certain look or a certain feel or a certain position, it’s literally, how do I tell this story in a way that it could last for the rest of our years.

How can these images last a lifetime and still tell a story, whether it’s day one, day, 100 or day 1,000?

This is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. What are you doing to better represent or tell the stories of that minority community….people facing physical challenges or otherwise?

We have a responsibility to, use our voice to amplify others, and after a series of conversations I had with my 8-year-old daughter being out here in these streets, with protestors and through photography documentary through, and videography as well, I would come and do these edits. My daughter would be off to the side. She realized that there was a sector of individuals that were missing… daughter said, ‘there’s no one doing ASL in your photography or your cinematography.’ So I said, what can we do to amplify the voices of others?

One night I basically started writing, around two o’clock in the morning and I wrote this piece and I immediately called (professional interpreter) Amy Crawford the next morning. 

Alaquiva pulled together a team and created the public service announcement in four days, releasing it on July 15. As of the first week in August, the impressions are “well into the millions,” he said. 

Alaquiva and his daughter, who inspired him to create a public service announcement featuring diverse members of the Black deaf community to raise awareness.

For the rest of the podcast, click here.

Look for a story on soon with more about Alaquiva, and his work.

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