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Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley


Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley is a London-based artist who works predominantly in animation, sound, video game development, and performance, creating interactive spaces. Their practice focuses on intertwining lived experience with fiction to imaginatively retell the stories of Black Trans people.  

As part of Helsinki Biennial 2023, Brathwaite-Shirley invited visitors to take part in role-playing performance events and an installation exploring a new mythology for Vallisaari Island, taking participants on a journey to meet the various characters and scenarios that guide their collaborative decision-making.

The characters took the form of physical sculptures on the island, and you could also listen to their background stories online. Live events took place over several days in June, August and September 2023. The sculptures and the online content could be experienced throughout the duration of the biennial. Scroll down for more information on the live events.

Web pilgrimage

It must have started with a group of people having fun. They didn’t have a name for themselves yet but the rituals they performed for each other slowly began to solidify into beliefs. A doorway known as ‘The Path of Passing Through’ was erected for those who wished to pass from one way of living to another. It was the first of its kind in the old world.

Word of the spiritual doorway spread, inciting pilgrimages to the doorway. The journey, when it came to a close, would allow you to begin life anew. To start again. It was rebranded as The Gate of Rebirth, Resurrection and Reawakening and those that had been through the pilgrimage of rebirth gained a deific resonance. The resonance began to make people move differently. Other religions saw this mesmerizing power and begun incorporating the pilgrimage, or the idea of self-pilgrimage, into their own system of beliefs. A union was born, a moment of understanding.

Then began a period in which the reasons to go on a pilgrimage began to be redefined, still keeping the idea of a journey but limiting what kind of journey and who you could become after it. Many of those who took the journey for the original purpose were no longer welcomed back to where they started. For some the journeys began to become one-way trips.

Until one day. Altogether. The idea of the journey stopped. And when the memory of those who had taken the journey was completely buried along with their bodies, the doorway was destroyed.

Now in the new world those journeys, those memories, have begun to resurface. A new time has emerged for the pilgrimage to The Gate of Rebirth.

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley: Thou Shall Not Assume, 2023. © HAM/Helsinki Biennial/Sonja Hyytiäinen

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Thou Shall Not Assume performance, 2023. © HAM/Helsinki Biennial/Viljami Annanolli

Brathwaite-Shirley’s work has featured in solo exhibitions and performances at institutions such as David Kordansky, LA (2022) Project Arts Centre, Ireland (2022); Skäneskonstförening, Malmö, Sweden (2022); Arebyte Gallery, London (2021); QUAD, Derby, England (2021); Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo (2021); Tate Modern, London (2020); Focal Point Gallery, London (2020); Science Gallery, London (2020); and MU Hybrid Art House, London (2020).

Their work has been included in group exhibitions at institutions such as Julia StoschekFoundation, Berlin (2022); Münchner Kammerspiele, Munich (2019); Les Urbaines, Lausanne (2019); and Barbican, London (2018).

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley 

Thou Shall Not Assume 


storied site-specific pilgrimage, site-specific installation, web pilgrimage  

Clothing consultant: Jennifer Brathwaite  

Coding: Florian Bruckner 

Courtesy of the artist.