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This project was successfully funded on December 24, 2017

"Postcards from Cuba" NYU TISCH Study Abroad Program & Research towards my MFA

by Djassi DaCosta Johnson


My name is Djassi DaCosta Johnson, and I am a dancer, choreographer, writer, photographer and filmmaker. This Hatchfund is a call to action in support of my upcoming trip to Cuba.

I became interested in making my choreographic explorations on film after touring for 12 years as a concert dancer and living in Europe working on film and television for 7 years. I am interested in utilizing film to expand the access to the arts and the ways in we tell stories with the marriage of dance and film through a cultural lens.

As an undergraduate majoring in Anthropology and English at Barnard, my thesis research led me to Salvador, Bahia Brazil where I studied the dances within the religion of Candomble.  I am currently passionate about exploring where anthropology, dance, and photography intersect in the contemporary global landscape. I feel that this fusion, manifested through the medium of film, allows me the opportunity to preserve and document the power of dance as a universal salve to political and social strife.

I have also become interested in documenting unknown pioneers of color in the dance world, in order to expand cultural and artistic understanding, and in particular, to give dancers a platform and a voice to speak about their art and the struggles therein. I aspire to add to the awareness and documentation of the history and impact of dancers of color in western-based classical ballet and codified modern technique worlds, where, historically, access to these art forms has been limited based on class and race across the international landscape. As an anthropologist, a classically trained modern dancer, and filmmaker, the possibility of documenting the classical ballet and tecnica cubana dancers of Cuba– at this juncture in history – feels urgent and necessary.

This Fall, I presented my thesis proposal, applied, and was accepted to the photography course “Postcards from Cuba”--NYU TISCH’s intensive two-week January course abroad. I plan to photograph and interview from to 4-8 dancers from the classical ballet community, from Carlos Acosta’ company, Acosta Danza, and from the modern dance companies Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Malpaso. I will then work with these dancers on a collaborative choreographic piece set against the backdrop of their city, Havana. Upon returning, I will work with the footage, photography, and interviews I collect in the development of my written MFA thesis and final film. I am also planning to present a photo exhibit in conjunction with a screening of the film, and hope to pitch the photo journal to the international magazine KINFOLK, for which I’ve published several dance-related articles this year.

My hope is to offer a lens into the overreaching power of dance in Cuba as cultural pride and as a model of artistic aspiration, individual excellence, and expression. By highlighting dancers and dance pioneers in Cuba through the medium of photography and film, and, presenting them in international platforms, I hope to share this work, adding a seed of inspiration to the next generations of black and brown dancers across the globe in their own pursuit of their art and cultural expression.

Unfortunately, as NYU Graduate Fellow, this study abroad mission is not funded and I am raising money independently for tuition for the 2-week course, housing, airfare and extra equipment rental. I am actively exploring outside and intra-university funding opportunities and I am asking for your help in making this dream a reality.

Your contribution would ensure that I can attend NYU’s photography program, “Postcards from Cuba,” and help me realize the three concrete artistic projects towards MFA thesis. By sharing my work with the international community, I hope to add to the evolving conversation surrounding dance on film and, the documentation of the moving image as agents for cultural preservation as well as powerful international translators.

I thank you immensely for considering a contribution to my work!


Yours in art, truth and struggle,

Muchas Gracias,

Many Thanks,

djassi daCosta johnson


                                                       "POSTCARDS FROM CUBA"

                                    NYU Special Programs Study Abroad in PHOTOGRAPHY

"We will reference a wide range of forms: the essay, the report, the journal, the novel, film, the photograph, and photo essay. We will also explore different points of entry: ethnographer, mapmaker, geographical explorer, photographer, adventurer, social activist and tourist. In doing so, we will hone in on principles of travel writing and photography, along with basic guidelines governing the interaction between word and image. Memory and history as essential components will inform our conversation."


                                                        DATES OF PROGRAM:

                                                JANUARY 2- JANUARY 19, 2018

                (Projected stay after program: 5-7 days to collect extra photography & footage)

                               HOW YOUR CONTRIBUTION WILL HELP:

                       Your contribution will go directly towards the fees for the program:

                          Graduate Tuition and Registration and Services Fee: $7,760

                                          Program Fee (includes housing): $1,046

                              Airfare: Approximately $850 (roundtrip from New York City)

                                                  STRETCH GOAL $13,000+

                In addition to the fees mentioned above, if the stretch goal is reached, the funds will go towards:

                  -Expenses while there (food, transportation to visit dance schools/ company)

                                                 -Equipment rental/ maintenance

            -Allow me the opportunity to extend my trip for up to a week to do independent research and further film work & interviews with dancers.

            -Allow me the capability to pay a cameraman/ crew members for the choreographic dance collaborative piece I plan to film.


I know how inundated we all are with requests for money in this season, and that you may or may not be able to provide substantial support at this moment in time. ANY amount makes a difference, and, if you are not able to give, helping spread the word can be equally, if not more powerful!

I have chosen to work with because I wanted to partner with a NON-PROFIT organization whose mission is dedicated to supporting the work of artists. This service is free for artists, provides tax-deductible contributions, and one-on-one support to me throughout the fundraising campaign. It is FOR art. I hope to know that the small additional donations (10% min. in total) that you pay for administration of the campaign is going towards a nonprofit committed to cultural advocacy!

Thank you!

                                                 ADVISORS - MENTORS

DEBORAH WILLIS - photographer, curator of photography, photographic historian, author, Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at NYU Tisch School of the Arts

GABRI CHRISTA - Professor of Professional Practice, ScreenDance, Composition, Modern Dance Technique at BARNARD COLLEGE, Columbia U.

PATRICIA BEAMAN Adjunct Professor in Dance History at NYU Tisch School the Arts and author of new textbook: Worl Dance Cultures.

(World Dance Cultures examines how constellations of history, politics, economics, and societal/religious values have impacted dance and focuses upon the fragility and resilience of cultural traditions.)

CARI ANN SHIM SHAMAssociate Arts Professor of Dance & New Media at NYU TISCH Dance

LARA ZIZIC - Award-winning, New York-based director, Lara’s long career in film and commercial production includes creating thought-provoking content for brands and is most known for her ground-breaking documentary “Mission Congo”.


                                                      LINKS TO MY WORK:

IG: @djauniversal

 dja.1974 :