3 Songs for Marie Nejar, performed by Ahya Simone

James Gregory Atkinson


28 Apr 2023 17:00 Free admission


German singer and actress Marie Nejar, stage name “Leila Negra” (b. 1930), Photo: Atelier Manassé

With 3 Songs for Marie Nejar, James Gregory Atkinson investigates music as a space of memory.

Artist James Gregory Atkinson’s work addresses the absence of Afro-German experience within established narratives. Marie Nejar, born in 1930 in Mühlheim an der Ruhr, began performing as a singer under the name Leila Negra at the beginning of the 1950s. Her life was shaped by the racist exclusions of Nazi Germany and its continuities into post-war Germany. Detroit harpist Ahya Simone will interpret songs by Nejar, following Atkinson’s invitation. The performance takes up an expanded conception of archives, in which places, bodies and oral as well as performative practices are understood as historical carriers.

AS_ Franchesca Lamarre

Portrait Ahya Simone. Photo: Franchesca Lamarre


James Gregory Atkinson, Zeitkapsel Transformer (Detail), 2021, photography, documents, transformer, books, various materials, installation view ‘6 Friedberg-Chicago’, Dortmunder Kunstverein. Courtesy the artist, Archiv des Hamburger Instituts für Sozialforschung, Germericans (Sabrina und Marvin Kuhn), Ika Hügel-Marshall, The Lisbet Tellefsen Collection, Tyrown Vincent, Dortmunder Kunstverein. Photo: Roland Baege


James Gregory Atkinson is a German-American artist. He has received fellowships and artist residencies at Villa Aurora, Los Angeles (2016), Jan Van Eyck Academy, Maastricht (2017), and a studio fellowship from the Hessische Kulturstiftung in New York (2018). He has had solo exhibitions at the Goethe-Institut Seattle, Dortmunder Kunstverein, and Frankfurt Studiengalerie 1.357. He has participated in numerous international group exhibitions, including Assembly, Portikus, Frankfurt/Main (2023); Biennale für Freiburg (2023), Villa Merkel, Esslingen (2022); Kunstraum München (2018); MMK Frankfurt/Main (2016), Villa Aurora, Los Angeles (2016), and others. In the winter semester of 2022, he realized a lecture series together with Dr. Antje Krause-Wahl at Goethe University Frankfurt. Works by him are in the Collection of Contemporary Art of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn and the MMK, Frankfurt/Main. James Gregory Atkinson lives and works in Frankfurt/Main.

Detroit-based artist, performer, filmmaker and harpist Ahya Simone’s engagement with music began in her childhood, which she spent at the Black Church, where she learned to sing. She has played the harp since high school and became principal harpist with the Wayne State University Wind Symphony upon graduation. She is also creator, co-writer, and director of the upcoming fictional web series “Femmes Queen Chronicles,” a story of four Black transwomen in Detroit. Ahya Simone lives and works in Detroit.

supported by Heinrich Böll Stiftung Washington, DC