Behind the canvas, the frame, and the lights, is the studio where the artist creates. It is a rare opportunity to go inside an artist’s studio and even rarer to talk with the creative individuals themselves. When such opportunities present themselves however, I have always found exploring the artist’s workshop is the most fulfilling way to discover new artwork. By observing how they work, the media they employ, and their strategies and styles, I see the percolation of ideas, the inspiration, and, most interestingly, the rejection. After noticing images depicting contemporary and historical civil rights activism on display in Academic West, I discovered that this artist is currently working here at Bucknell. Last Wednesday, I was granted the opportunity to see inside Bucknell’s first visual artist-in-residence Shani Peters’ studio right here on campus.
Shani Peters, a Lansing, Michigan native turned Harlem hipster, focuses on video, printmaking, and public projects. Her work reflects “interests in social justice histories, cultural record keeping, media culture, and community building.” 1 She employs and juxtaposes historical and modern cultural and social tensions in her artwork through her messages, symbolism, and duality and contrasts of color. By comparing historical to contemporary problems, she instigates in the viewer a meditation of life cycles.
Many of her images investigates and celebrates the concept of self-determination. For example, the Crown Project in Academic West imagines “crowns as symbols for self-determination and the complexity of the experience of the African people following the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.” 2 Half of the photos on the crowns have historical photos of Black Americans engaged in political protests, whereas the other half showcases contemporary images, still engaged in similar protests. On the Westernized crowns, as a satire of African headdresses and diaspora, Peters’ also depicts African American tribal people contrasted against the public figures in the Western world such as the late Notorious B.I.G and the late Michael Jackson. While raising awareness about the struggles the black community face, she also strives to show the pride in the black community.
Shani’s inspiration comes from her father who was a black history professor. Her father studied and taught through various mediums, such as literature, theater, and music, because he wanted to do more than just teach history – he wanted to create narratives around the subjects’ lives. James Baldwin, whom her father introduced her to, was especially influential in how Shani processes her work. Baldwin famously stated, “Our crown has already been bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear it.” Shani’s crowns reflect this message by urging us to acknowledge our personal worth, take ownership for the life given to us by the sacrifices of our ancestors, and find meaning and comfort in our lives.
Her own studio at the Art Barn gives us insight into her own consciousness and techniques as she makes, remakes, layers, and undoes her work. The works that make it out of the studio are the ones that “open up a strand of thought.” In her exhibits, she wants to facilitate a space of healing, freedom, and self-reflection for all the viewers – especially for Black Americans. However, her work appeals to all, because, no matter our background, many of us understand the difficulties of the human life. With Shani’s studio at Bucknell, we have the chance to explore this perspective in depth, actualize the fullness of ourselves and backgrounds, and share stories with the artist herself.
**Shani’s studio at the Art Barn is open until May 1st.
- “SHANI PETERS.” Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. N.p., 06 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. ↩
- Stuart, Greg. “Shani Peters: Nesbitt Artist in Residence : Samek Art Museum.” Samek Art Museum RSS. N.p., 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. ↩