In exactly one week, our annual gala, SOAPBOX 2015, will take place on Tuesday June 16 at Urban Glass gallery in Brooklyn. It was an ideal time to take our Summer 2015 interns to meet one of this year’s honorees: Shani Peters (read our interview with Shani here).
Shani greeted us with open arms as we walked through the large space, occupied by several different artists. Upon arriving in Shani’s creative space, a vision of crowns was seen in many areas, all of which belonged to The Crown: Contemporary Construction of Self in America project.
About The Crown… Project:
The Crown project, which consists of cardboard paper cutouts formed into crowns, symbolizes Black self-determination. Half of the crowns are curated similarly to those of many African societies including tribes whereas the other half visually represent public figures in the Western world such as the late Notorious B.I.G and the late Michael Jackson. The Crown Project has traveled abroad to Zimbabwe, where many portraits capture the individuals posing with the crowns, known as “selfie determination portraits.”
Shani wants to make to make the message of the crowns clear; she is not an advocate for heirarchy because it further represents suppression in the United States. The crowns act as a prompt to people within the Black community to straighten their backs and to stand tall with pride moving forward.
As an artist that primarily deals with video production and growing up watching a lot of television, music greatly inspires Shani’s work. The Crown project, in particular, is paired with “The Crown” performed by Gary Byrd and The G.B. Experience and written by Stevie Wonder—a fitting song. She also mentioned being inspired by musicians such as Lina Horne, Charlie Patton and puts a spotlight on Mos Def’s (now known as Yasiin Bey) Black On Both Sides as having a profound influence on her for about fifteen years.
What Harlem means to Shani:
As her father was a Black History professor, Shani was exposed to the history of Harlem from an early age. She knows the history of the darker times of drugs in Harlem as well as the better days when the culture was booming. So she is not able to be a part of Harlem without knowing and thinking about the good and bad that occurred in the neighborhood. Like she says, “Harlem is to Brooklyn as Big Boi is to Andre 3000.”
It was such a pleasure for Shani to let us into her world once again. She left us with a piece of very important advice. Unlike many artists, she has worked a regular 9 to 5 job, so she knows both sides and states, “It is easier being an employee than it is being a boss.” On that same note, she took the chance to share, “One should sit back and observe when entering a new environment.” This way, one can learn and see how he or she can take a technique and make it into his or her own. We look forward to honoring Shani at SOAPBOX 2015.