Invasive Species

AR graphic of large fauna structure in a city landscape, tucked between buildings. A crowd observes the AR sculpture

Since Fall 2021, AAI has been working on a project conceived by the 2022 Artists-in-Residence Ashley Gripper and Sonia Galiber (Land Based Jawns and Soil Generation), and developed by Eto Otitigbe (eo Studio) called Invasive Species. Highlighting the Cut, a sub-street level, open-air green space that runs parallel to Callowhill Street from North Broad Street to behind the Rodin Museum, the project’s intent is to call attention to natural land systems and plant life that give respite to urban areas. Our goal is to demonstrate how integral these passive ecosystems are in creating critical resources for community residents and passersby. In showing stages of life in the natural environment of an ignored patch of Philadelphia’s greenscaping, we also aim to demonstrate the tremendous potential of art to assist in understanding public infrastructure, the beauty of unseen corners of the city, and the role we can play as cultural producers in climate mitigation.

The culmination of the community engagement process will be a mixed reality presentation in Fall 2023 that invites visitors to use technology to cross-pollinate the Cut’s diverse plant life with narratives about cultural and physical migration. Invasive Species also includes sound sculptures that will be temporarily installed around the Cut. A selection of personal narratives and migration stories told by the community members will be incorporated into the final performance. 

Further information about the forthcoming events will be announced soon including:

  • Community events (Spring/Summer)
  • An art installation that will be presented along the 18th street pedestrian bridge (Fall)
  • A two-evening immersive virtual performance and storytelling (Urban Cypher, Fall)


Project Background and Context
On the heels of the latest release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, AAI envisions how artists can innovate interventions to climate disaster, supplementing the work of local institutions and circumventing historic challenges via creative, innovative strategies. With this project, art is not limited to merely representing the effects of climate disaster, but seeks to make tangible the benefits of greenspace investment and to create new avenues to access those benefits.

As a racially identified organization, AAI seeks to engage artists who represent the global and city majority in a community-led process that will directly impact our Chinatown/Callowhill North neighbors and neighborhood as a whole. In a city and arts field recovering from a devastating year amid myriad pandemics, we intend to support artists from marginalized communities who can most speak to the benefits and challenges posed by urban greenspace renewal and climate disaster.

Invasive Species is a project of Eco/Systems Land Based Initiatives, funded by the Our Town Grant of the National Endowment for the Arts. Our Town projects advance local economic, physical, or social outcomes in communities, ultimately laying the groundwork for systems change and centering equity. These projects require a partnership between a nonprofit organization and a local government entity, with one of the partners being a cultural organization. Asian Arts Initiative is pleased to partner with SEPTA and the City of Philadelphia to present Eco/Systems: Land Based Initiatives in 2023.



About Eto Otitigbe & eo Studio  /  Instagram: @e_o__studio

Founded by Eto Otitigbe, eo Studio collaborates with artists, designers, researchers, and cultural workers to develop polymedia installations and public art projects. Current collaborators for the Invasive Species project include Chrissy Brimmage, Michael DiCarlo, Rudy Gerson, and Amanda Kerdahi. Recent eo Studio projects include Cascode, a permanent public artwork at The University of Pennsylvania, and Tankugbe Incubation Lab, a project that develops a series of mixed reality installations. eo Studio is a 2023 Creative Capital recipient for Tankugbe Incubation Lab.

Eto Otitigbe is a polymedia artist whose interdisciplinary practice includes sculpture, performance, installation, and public art. Through his interdisciplinary practice, he is interested in recovering buried narratives and giving form to the unseen. His public art intersects history, community, and biophilic design. Otitigbe is a recipient of the 2022 Augustus St. Gaudens Fellowship. Otitigbe is an Assistant Professor in the Art Department at Brooklyn College. 


About Ashley Gripper
Ashley is a co-creator of Land Based Jawns, a Philly based organization rooted in Spirit and ancestral spiritual practices. They provide education and training to Black women, femme, and non-binary people, on agriculture, land based living, safety, and carpentry. They do so with a focus on self and community healing. Much of their work and training is guided by the skills and lessons highlighted throughout the Parable of the Sower series by Octavia Butler.


About Sonia Galiber
Sonia is a grower, educator, political organizer, and artist. As a member of Soil Generation, she does land, food, and environmental policy work, coordinates internal operations, graphic design, and contributes to healing and developing core theories. Philadelphia’s first Urban Agriculture Strategic Plan and Soil Generation’s Agroecology FROM the People are among the works she has helped co-create. Sonia also participated in the Food Policy Advisory Council, the Alliance for A Just Philly, and the HEAL Food Alliance on behalf of Soil Generation. Sonia is also an herbalist, hot sauce maker, and an artist of Japanese calligraphy and self-taught illustration. She was born in Okinawa, lived in Maryland, and now Philadelphia. Sonia draws inspiration from her Afro-Okinawan roots, her deep reverence of the mystical natural world, and the healing power of practicing community.


About Asian Arts Initiative
Located in Philadelphia’s Chinatown North, Asian Arts Initiative is a multidisciplinary arts center offering exhibitions, performances, artist residencies, youth workshops, and a community gathering space. Here, all of us can view and create art that reflects our lives, and think critically, creatively about the future we want to build for our communities.


About the Cut
The Cut is an open air section of land that runs below street level, connecting the Viaduct to the Tunnel. It runs from North Broad Street near the old Inquirer Building to behind the Rodin Museum, where 22nd St meets Pennsylvania Ave. It’s lined with 30-foot high stone walls and crossed by a series of bridges that support the city’s north and south bound streets.


About NEA
Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is an independent federal agency that is the largest funder of the arts and arts education in communities nationwide and a catalyst of public and private support for the arts. By advancing equitable opportunities for arts participation and practice, the NEA fosters and sustains an environment in which the arts benefit everyone in the United States.

Logo for National Endowment for the Arts


Cover image courtesy of eo Studio.