ricky sallay zoker (aka. YATTA) is a multimedia artist, musician, writer, and educator who was Music Resident at Pioneer Works in August 2022. To accompany the release of their new residency video, YATTA shared the following reflections with Pioneer Works Broadcast.

Inside Family

We lived near the bayou. My grandma would walk with us, bread loaves in hand. We tossed the birds bits of food and watched them run to us for fun. We sat while Grandma stood with her hand on her hip. Down the street one way was the park with the baseball field, down the street the other way was the elementary school. In the baseball park there was the forest, inside the forest there was a tree house, which I can’t remember if it was make-believe or true. My grandma’s garden also had a forest (a forest was any place that had trees taller than me). Camping is where I saw true forests. Hot dogs and chips with our butts in the dirt. Mom was a troop leader because she didn’t want me to be the only Black person around. Camping in a huge tent with my mom and Kathleen’s mom felt like a strange ritual with an undisclosed intention. My mom wanted to have some sense of control over my interactions in an all white troop—troop like we were going out to war. A war to create culture and fashion experiences in nature that could teach us how to choose discomfort as a game. I guess the undisclosed intention was to prove something to ourselves, which still isn’t specific, but is closer to what I’ve been thinking about lately. About nature. About who owns it and why. About camping, swimming, hiking, climbing, skiing. About Blackness in relation to those things.


In high school, I met kids who were passionate about protecting the environment. I didn’t understand why they were telling me to reuse my water bottle. I hated seeing their Nalgenes. They had the audacity to judge me for thinking about things that weren’t recycling. In college, the same kids grew up to be young adults who used jargon to protest and defend their eco-beliefs. Somehow, they were unable to conjure frustration, anger, or gusto for the protection of their Black peers. Now, they know better. They have a nuanced understanding of the intersection between racism and environmentalism. They know to be quiet and to listen. They know that to be a good white person is to question everything and to keep your racist thoughts to yourself, or think of them as intrusive thoughts because they could not be from you. Perhaps, the thoughts are downloaded from the minds of their ancestors who are so desperately afraid that their grasps on power are loosening. Anyway, enough about them.


During Covid I learned about hobbies. I began a herbalism class. It was expensive. I dropped out. I realized I don’t really care about herbalism. I know it works, but I get suspicious. I do believe that  plants heal and speak. Nettles sting. They teach us about boundaries. Roses prick. They teach us how to say no. Oatstraw tempers fire. I need a lot of oatstraw. Everyone has a herb store now. Everyone is a tarot reader now. Everyone remembers the earth now. Tell God Tenky. I love to quit.


I told my therapist I started surfing. He’s African. He told me he was afraid of water. My mom is afraid of water and cats. Cats are afraid of water. I love water. Neither of my parents can swim. Black people weren’t allowed in public pools in the US until the mid 1960s.

Black people were stolen and placed in ships that moved across water. Women who  jumped off of the ships had unborn babies who formed an underwater community called Drexciya. Drexciya is a music duo that made techno about Black life underwater. They’re from Detroit, Michigan. Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water. Who is to blame?

In Sierra Leone they burn trash. I love the smell. White people probably think it’s bad to burn trash, too. Who knows. I’m tired. I want to rest. I want to swim. I want to feel at ease. I deserve it. I deserve it. I deserve it. ♦

ricky sallay zoker (a.k.a. YATTA) is a multimedia artist and musician. With their solo project, YATTA, they have performed nationally and internationally, alongside acts like Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Laraaji, and the Sun Ra Arkestra. Their multimedia performances, videos, and installations have been shown at institutions like the Shed, The Getty, MoCA, MoMA, and the Tate. Their music has been reviewed in magazines like Pitchfork and The Wire. They are a former Clocktower Radio resident and have taught workshops at Bard College, the New School, Vassar College, and the School of Making and Thinking.