Is there anything left to be said about love that hasn’t already been said? Poets and songwriters have been trying to pin down an apt way to describe love for centuries. Yet that doesn’t stop each generation from making an attempt. Some see love as hokey, trite or cliche and may think that it has no place in contemporary art.
Shanika Grimes and Shani Peters address love in their work in somewhat different ways. Shanika’s work explores familial love from the point of view of a young wife and mother, while Shani’s work is more about her love of Black people and communal progress.
Though Shanika had a wonky internet connection , we had an engaging conversation where she described becoming a wife and mother at age 20. Rather than merely sinking under the weight of these hefty roles, Shanika transformed her circumstances into transcendent art. I think that this demonstrates a great self-love as well. As artists many times our practice is what helps us to cope with situations in our lives that we may not feel equipped to handle otherwise.
Shanika beautifully articulates the pressures of a woman in the Caribbean who chooses to marry and have children. She makes important connections between patriarchy, misogyny, corporal punishment and spousal abuse. Shanika makes it easy to see that when women are viewed as merely food dispensers or the property of their family, it creates an environment where men feel comfortable abusing them (as well as their children).
I chose Shani for this chapter of the documentary because of her amazing project called ‘We Promote Knowledge and Love.’ For this interventionist performance, Shani and her enlisted volunteers don sandwich boards with the words “We Promote Knowledge and Love” emblazoned on them and hand out fliers with inspirational quotes from legendary thought leaders like Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X. I have participated in this performance in Brooklyn as well as in Harlem for the African American Day Parade and I must say that it is truly a labor of love. Many NYC residents are familiar with the sandwich board flier distributors with fliers that read “We Buy Gold and Diamonds” who work for local pawn brokers. Shani remixed this idea with her own sandwich board performance. During our candid conversation in her Harlem studio, Shani spoke about social justice and activism as acts of love.
It was interesting editing these two artists together and seeing the connections between romantic love, maternal love and love of community.
About Shanika Grimes:
Shanika Grimes completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Barbados Community college, while juggling the birth of her now two year old son. She displayed a proficiency in the arts from a very young age despite the pull of the business oriented society in which she lives. Shanika works in a variety of two dimensional formats and has more recently extended her practice to the realm of performance art, which is documented and presented through video or photography. She focuses on an examination of self, which she uses as a catalyst for a barrage of ideas including, but not limited to, gender, culture and relationships.
About Shani Peters:
Shani Peters is a New York based artist (born in Lansing, MI) working in video, collage, printmaking, and social practice public projects. Her work reflects interests in activism histories, cultural record keeping, media culture, and community building. Peters completed her B.A. at Michigan State University and her M.F.A. at The City College of New York. She has exhibited, screened and/or presented her work in the US and broad, including exhibitions at the Schomburg Center for Black Culture and Research, Bronx Museum of Art, Rush Arts Gallery, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), The Savannah College of Art & Design, The Contact Theatre (UK), and Seoul Art Space Geumcheon (SK).
She has participated in multiple residencies including programs hosted by The Center for Book Arts, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Counsel, the Lower East Side Printshop, the Bronx Museum of Art’s Artist in the Marketplace program, and apexart’s Outbound Residency to Seoul S. Korea. Peters has taught extensively throughout her Harlem community as an educator and program designer working in New York Public Schools, Harlem Textile Works, Casita Maria Arts Education Inc., The Laundromat Project, and as a social justice arts education adjunct lecturer at The City College of New York.