Animation Fest at 20: A Retrospective
July 28– September 30
Opening Friday, July 28, 2023, 6–8 pm
On view through September 30, 2023, Tuesday–Friday, 12–5 pm and by appointment
Squeaky Wheel is pleased to announce an exhibition featuring five key works drawn from the history of our annual Animation Fest. Begun as an outdoor screening in 2004, the fest celebrates animation in all its forms. Often organized by emerging guest curators, the fest has featured hundreds of classic and cutting edge animated works from Buffalo and across the globe. In anticipation of the 20th edition of the Fest taking place this Fall, Squeaky Wheel presents a retrospective exhibition of the fest, featuring five artists who have screened in prior editions, interspersed with posters, program notes, documentation, and other ephemera from the Fest’s history.
Opening as our summer youth workshops are taking place, the exhibition intends to inspire generations young and old with the possibilities of the genre. All movies are, technically, physiologically, animation: film frames flicker, pixel turn on and off, our eyes create the movement between the frames. The moniker of “animation” is a Trojan horse for radical visions. The short films exhibited – by Adele Han Li, Ayoka Chenzira, Hannah R.W. Hamalian, Jazmyn Palermo, and Maria Ziaja – include works made by legendary figures and former Squeaky Wheel students, from Buffalo and beyond. They exemplify some of the Animation Fest’s promise and possibility: personal visions and experiments; surprising and poignant uses of tools and technologies; and social and political commitment and critique.
The exhibition will be open Tuesdays through Fridays 12–5 pm and by appointment. Click here for visit, transportation, and access information for our new location. To make an appointment, including fully masked visits, or inquire about group tours, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Works in the exhibition
Access: See films with open captions below; written audio descriptions are provided for films without captions on their respective wall labels. The films in this exhibition are suitable for ages 13 and up.
- Ayoka Chenzira, Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy Headed People, 10:26 min, 16mm film presented on digital video, sound on headphones, open captions, 1985.
“I was very concerned with the question of black women in this country and self-image aesthetics. If you look at all the commercials that come out and tell you how to fix yourself, they are all based on the idea that there is something wrong with you. And so, having a child, these things became very glaring, and I think that’s a part of Hairpiece. Hairpiece is funny, but it comes from a position of real anger.” – Ayoka Chenzira. Included in the 2004 edition of the Animation Fest, Hair Piece was one of the twenty-five films selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2018. The film received a 4K restoration by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation with funding from the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation, which is the version that is on view. Film courtesy of Kino Lorber and Milestone Films.
- Maria Ziaja, One Speck in the Universe, 1 min, digital video on LCD monitor, sound on headphones, open captions, 2013.
- Maria Ziaja, Flying Bird, 1 min, digital video on LCD monitor, sound on headphones, 2013.
Maria Ziaja created these two videos during her time taking a Stop-Motion Animation class as part of Squeaky Wheel’s Tech Arts for Girls program, taught by Alice Alexandrescu; the two films were included in the 2013 edition of the Animation Fest, programmed by Squeaky Wheel’s 2013 staff and interns, including Jax Deluca, Mark Longolucco, and Ryan Crowley.
- Adele Han Li, Chella Drive, 3:29 min, digital video on projection, sound on speakers, 2016.
“A dreamlike memory of a teenager’s summer complacency and the luscious suburban environment that surrounds her. Made using hand drawn animations projected onto real life settings and rephotographed frame by frame.” – Adele Han Li. Chella Drive as included in the 2016 edition curated by Ekrem Serdar.
- Jazmyn Palermo, Teenie Hams’ Adventures in Genderland, 9:54 min, digital video installed on CRT monitor, sound on headphones, 2018
“Teenie Hams’ Adventures in Genderland is a stop-motion animation that explores a transgender perspective of finding oneself. As Teenie enters a world of fairies, witches, creatures, ghouls and vampires, they find themself on an adventure in the world of people they have only heard of in scary stories. They find friends and helpful hands along the way on their adventure of exploration and self discovery.” – Jazmyn Palermo. Teenie Hams’ Adventures in Genderland was included in the 2020 edition, guest curated by Tabia Lewis.
- Hannah R.W. Hamalian, The Golden Age, 9:58 min, digital video on LCD, sound on headphones, open captions, 2021
“An experimental documentary examining the traumatic history of being a woman at work in the animation industry. I put myself into conversation with a generation of women who experienced restricted creative opportunities in animation and a lack of acknowledgement as artists. Each manipulated frame is an ode to the disregarded labor of women, wielded to create films that told young girls to dream.” – Hannah R.W. Hamalian. The Golden Age was included in the 2022 edition, curated by Ekrem Serdar and Zainab Saleh; her work was previously included in the 2017 edition guest curated by Savion “Ineil Quaran” Mingo.
Biographies of the artists
As a child, Ayoka discovered her interest in storytelling while listening to women talk in her mother’s Philadelphia beauty parlor. With a background in modern dance, photography, and music, she discovered her passion for filmmaking after being taken to every age-inappropriate movie that her cinephile parent could find. Since then, Ayoka is known to work across a range of genres, including drama, science fiction, documentary, animation, and interactive cinema. As an actor’s director, able to work with various acting styles and degrees of experience, Ayoka’s visionary style of storytelling and character development takes center stage as does her ability to emotionally and visually elevate a story.
Ayoka’s indie films highlight stories about Black women and have been exhibited at international film festivals, around the world, and acquired by prestigious institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is one of the first African American women to write, produce and direct a 35mm feature film, Alma’s Rainbow, which was recently restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, along with her short film collection. Set in Brooklyn, the comedy/drama follows the interior lives of a budding teenage girl, her no-nonsense mother and a glamorous globe-trotting aunt.
As a self-taught stop motion and digital media animator, Ayoka has used these techniques to explore American history and concepts related to identity and standards of beauty for Black women. In 2018, her animated film Hair Piece was one of twenty-five films inducted into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress along with Jurassic Park, The Shining, and Brokeback Mountain. Her film, Zajota & the Boogie Spirit was one of the first to use frame-by-frame video and blend cell and computer animation, and for which she was honored with the Sony Innovator Award. As of 2022, Bowie State University’s first stop-motion animation studio now bears the name Studio Ayoka Chenzira.
In 2018, Ayoka’s television career took off when Ava DuVernay tapped her to direct episodes of OWN’s hit family drama Queen Sugar, starring Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lien Gardner and Kofi Siriboe, for which she garnered an NAACP nomination for directing. Since Queen Sugar, Ayoka has worked non-stop as a television director, drawing on her years of experience as a filmmaker. She is known for her visual style, inventiveness, and technical skills while being a creative partner and collaborator.
Recently, Ayoka directed episodes of the CBS reboot of the iconic series Dynasty, starring Elizabeth Gillies and Grant Show, who reprised the role of Blake Carrington. As a director of young adult fiction, Ayoka directed episodes of the award-winning Netflix drama Trinkets featuring Quintessa Swindell and Brianna Hildebrand and helped to navigate the complex world of teenage identity.
Then pivoting to the carefully crafted world of period drama series, Ayoka was one of four directors selected by Sony/Amazon to direct the period sports comedy-drama, A League of Their Own, based on the beloved Penny Marshall film of the same title and starring Abbi Jacobson, Nick Offerman, D’Arcy Carden, and Chanté Adams, and for which she received an Emmy nomination for directing.
Blending history and science fiction, as one of four directors of the FX series Kindred, Ayoka navigated two time periods for the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s celebrated and critically acclaimed novel. Working with historians, Ayoka introduced visual representations of culture and intimidation in inventive ways that became part of the narrative.
A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, in 2022 Ayoka directed the Spectrum/AMC psychological thriller Beacon 23, a Canadian production based on the novel by The New York Times best-selling author, Hugh Howey and starring Lena Headey and Stephan James. Ayoka’s episode was filmed entirely across four sound stages and included substantial visual effects and face replacements for body doubles. Working with a choreographer, she developed a unique sign language; with composers Ramin Djawadi (Pacific Rim, Game of Thrones, Iron Man), and William Marriott (Westworld, Game of Thrones, Jack Ryan) she created chants sung by an outer space community of rebels.
Ayoka broke new ground with her production of HERadventure, a sci-fi/fantasy interactive cinema project that uses gameplay to navigate the story. The project was first presented in 2013 at South-by-Southwest where it was projected onto a building as players navigated the coming-of-age story featuring a reluctant young woman from another planet who comes to Earth to find her sister and ends up a superhero.The first interactive cinema project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, HERadventure features a first for the interactive cinema genre — a woman of color as a superhero. The project led to an invitation by TEDxAtlanta where Ayoka presented the Power of Diverse Sci-fi/Fantasy Storytellers
Ayoka earned a BFA in Film from New York University, an EdM Adult and Higher Education from Columbia University/Teachers College, and is the first African American to earn a PhD in Digital Media from the George Institute of Technology. She served as the Division Chair for the Arts at Spelman College, where she created majors in documentary filmmaking, photography, and dance performance & choreography, the firsts at an HBCU. In addition, she helped to raise funds for a new, the March Schmidt Campbell Center for Innovation in the Arts, currently under construction where a documentary film production lab will bear her name.
With an impressive track record of success and dedication to storytelling, Ayoka Chenzira is a filmmaker, television director, and digital media artist to watch.
Ayoka Chenzira lives in Atlanta and is dedicated to centralizing women protagonists and elevating stories by and about women.
Hannah’s work has screened and shown at festivals internationally, including ADF’s Movies by Movers, KLIK Amsterdam Animation Festival, Athens International Film and Video Festival (Ohio, USA), and the Squeaky Wheel Animation Fest (New York, USA). She received her BA from Carleton College and her MFA from UW-Milwaukee, and she currently teaches at Lane Community College in Eugene, OR.