Cultivating Creative Collaboration: Sajata Epps

Giovannah Philippeaux, Development & Communications Intern (CUNY Cultural Corps), had the unique pleasure of getting to know Bronx-artist and LP neighbor Sajata Epps at her live/work studio. Over a home-cooked meal and a pot of traditional rice tea, Giovannah and Sajata talked about community, art practice, and the importance of creative collaboration. As they spoke, Giovannah learned more about Sajata’s transformative trip through Asia and how those experiences have informed her art and community practices.

Sajata Epps, or SAJATA-E as she is known to many, is a cultivator of the Earth, a cultivator of crafts, and a cultivator of creative collaboration. As a native Bronxite, Sajata’s experiences reflect the richness and diversity of this borough. For Sajata, to be from and of the Bronx is different than being a New Yorker. As she proclaims, the Bronx “has its own culture,” a culture steeped in creative collaboration. 

“When you are born in the Bronx, which is multi-diverse, you grow up with a culturally diverse background. As a Bronxite, you are a mix of everything that makes up the Bronx.”

Sajata Epps

Imagine being able to knit at the age of six, and sewing your first dress by the age of twelve. This early interest in creative expression led Sajata to pursue a degree in fashion design from the Wood Tobé-Coburn School in New York. While working in the industry for some of New York’s top brands, Sajata began to notice the extensive waste that plagues the industry. Displeased with these practices, she began to integrate sustainable practices into her work, life, and art. SAJATA-E has been running her design practice in the Bronx for the last 20 years. Driven by her passion for sustainable living, she has sought to share her knowledge with her local Bronx community.    

In 2014, she helped co-found the Kelly Street Garden, a community organization that The Laundromat Project (The LP) has been collaborating with since the summer of 2014 to bring engaging creative events and programs to the historic neighborhood. It is through one such creative event that Sajata met Roslisham Ismail better known as Ise, who would introduce her to The Asian Cultural Council.

The Asian Cultural Council is dedicated to cross-cultural exchange and dialogue through art. The Council awards grants to artists and scholars, such as Ise and Sajata, to travel from: Asia to the U.S., the U.S. to Asia, or intra-Asia. The grant provides funding, program and logistics support, and mentoring to the grantees.

As a 2015 Asian Cultural Council grantee, Ise was in the U.S. to connect with other artists, expand his practice, and engage with local communities. After a studio visit with Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, Director of Programs for The LP, Ise was invited to spend some time at the Kelly Street Collaborative. His project, The Self Help Open Space Project, was inspired by the history of Kelly Street and broader South Bronx community. In 1978, Kelly Street residents banded together to rehabilitate their homes and neighborhood. Ise’s commemoration of this historic event was a one-day community gathering that centered around the preparation and sharing of an old Malay recipe for Nasi Kerabu, or blue rice and the making of a zine in collaboration with local photographer and community leader, Robert Foster along with Jennifer “Hopey” Foster. At the gathering, Sajata presented on the color changing properties of the butterfly pea flower when used as a natural dyeing agent.