In Memoriam: Danielle Abrams, Performance Artist and Educator

Danielle Abrams, was an artist and professor of practice at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. She exemplified the history she researched through her own art practice and her work as an educator. Abrams’ performances “arise from the social currents that shape her mixed-race and queer identity. By juxtaposing ethnic clans and rearranging time and space, she creates scenarios that are liberated from scripts of the past.”

Danielle sadly and unexpectedly passed away on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

I am one of Danielle’s students. Her life, work, and our friendship shaped me profoundly.  I wrote this as a tribute to a visionary artist and outstanding human being.

I met Danielle in 2014, I was a new MFA student and she was a new professor at SMFA. The MFA cohort (about 60 of us) sat packed together in the downstairs gallery at the Mission Hill studios. The Director of Graduate Studies, Mary Ellen Strom, introduced Danielle Abrams,  “The new performance professor at SMFA.”

I thought it didn’t impact me, I was a painter there to study installation art, “I don’t do performance.”

Little did I know.

I spent the better half of my first year in the program thinking I was pushing boundaries (I wasn’t). I was just a stubborn art student that didn’t know how much she didn’t know. Even after all of my favorite peers and professors told me that I needed to schedule a studio visit with Danielle, I still didn’t.

I scoffed at them, “I’m not a performance artist.” I said

It wasn’t until a group critique, when our scheduled professor was absent and Danielle subbed in for them, that I clued in to her brilliance. I watched her carefully unpack and open conversations in an inviting way. I was transfixed by her power as a teacher. 

And, after that, I enrolled in every class she led.

To my teacher, Danielle, a letter to you.

Danielle,

I came into SMFA as a painter, and I left as an artist, because of you. I wish now, more than ever, that I could illustrate what an impact you had on my life. You left me space to realize there’s a way to incorporate social change into my art, life and career. 

I wish I could tell you all the things I’ve been doing. Not for accolades, but to show the change you were instrumental in.

You’re the consignment letter for all I’ve been doing. I would not be where I am, I would not try and grapple with this space if not for you. You cherished the ability to involve us in your success. You lived your performances daily in the way you interacted with communities and students.

I had the privilege of interviewing you in 2020 and you said, “As a professor, I presume that every student that enters my class has grief, confusion, inner conflicts, rage, and myriad responses from which I will learn.  We are coming together with the imperative to make art. In performance and socially engaged work, we address the present. I ask my students to work with what they know and what they care about.”

Boy, did you have a way with words.

Danielle Abrams, you will always be a rock, a guiding force, the landscape and portrait of what it means to be an artist and a teacher. 

You were, and always will be, the best of us. I love you. 

-Kaeley

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