Join US December 9th, 2017 at 7pm for Our Art Basel Event with Shani CroweTXTURE Magazine presents... ENTWINE
Gallery 88 - 237 20th Street, Miami Beach, FL. 33139
Shani Crowe’s braid artistry serves as more than adornment for her models. Her artistry serves as a reminder of the royalty that flows through our veins. It connects us to a continent whose rhythmic beats will always pulsate with every heartbeat. Our heritage and inheritance our highlighted with the arcs, crowns, and cowry shells that shape and decorate the braided coils that our modeled by a community of goddesses. Her fingers create paths of meticulous parts and intricate braid patterns, as she weaves the remembrance of our regality into every strand. Join me as I speak with Shani Crowe about her “Regal Perspective.”
You have been an artist in a variety of mediums. What was your” Eureka” moment with the BRAIDS concept?
The concept to create a series of images of not traditionally wearable hairstyles came to me as a kid. I was 12 when I first started to have a consistent clientele, and I was like it would be really cool to do a fun photoshoot with braid styles you don’t normally see people wear. But I never got a chance to produce that until I actually heard about a grant opportunity in Chicago through an agency called “Three Arts.” “Three Arts” caters to minority women and the disabled people who may not normally have an advantage when applying for grants. So it caters specifically to those people. Deciding what project I wanted to propose for the grant… I was like, “Wow, I never did the braids piece that I wanted to do.” Braiding has always been something that is absolutely an art, but I never considered it as part of my artistic repertoire.I guess, it was mostly because of people’s misgivings about braiding and their reactions when asked as a college grad what I was doing. You know they wanted me to tell them that I had some kind of corporate gig. At the time, I was doing hair, I was doing nails, and using that money to feed into my art so that I was able to create. So, braiding is a vehicle for my art and it is absolutely a part of my art. Most people come to me because of the artistry of my braiding, because of the meticulous nature of my braiding and the passion and care I put into it is nothing short of art. I realized I was discounting it as an art because of other people, so I wanted to apologize to myself for even being ashamed of something that has been such a blessing to me in my life. I wanted to combine that with a bunch of new ideas that I have gotten from the time that I was 12 to 26, when I created the show. It’s been wonderful! Everything that has happened from that show has been nothing short of a blessing, and is a continual blessing. I am very happy about it.
You said in previous interviews, "I am creating myself according to my own image of myself,” when you were asked about BRAIDS can you expound on that a little bit more?
I was raised in a very pro-black family. I went to a school with an afrocentric-based curriculum. Just kind of going back to what I was saying about not getting a corporate job… One of the ways I express myself is through my appearance. I change my hair a lot, I wear a lot of interesting clothes, because that’s me. That’s how I like to present myself. I think that presentation is a strong part of African culture. Africa is rich- minerally rich, culturally rich, and african people display themselves according to the richness of where they come from. So, for me I continue to pay that forward with how I present myself and the way that I view the people I know and love. All of the models from the first series are people I know. I just thought that it was important for black people, black women especially to show themselves in their full glory. A lot of times we cannot because of the workplace, you know. You don’t want other people to make you feel uncomfortable because of how you look. Whatever that means, I don’t really understand… Basically it means that if you are not adhering to a European beauty standard then you are making people uncomfortable. But really what it means is that by being yourself you are making people feel uncomfortable. What does that mean? If you can’t be yourself, than who are you going to be? Who are you going to look like? I feel that puts a tremendous pressure on black people. To feel that you yourself are not enough or just by being yourself you are making somebody feel uncomfortable, is emotional abuse in a way. My work because it is creative work I can create whatever I want and I am free from restraints that people are bound to from working in that environment. So I kind of take that and run with it…
THERE IS NOTHING LIKE FREEDOM. YOU ARE FREE YOU ARE NOT MUTED, I AGREE.
It’s about freedom for me, and maintaining my freedom. Sovereignty over my own body is very important. I think that it is naturally a part of black culture. It is stifling to expect black people not to be cute.
YES. WHO WE NATURALLY ARE IS CONSIDERED FLASHY OR “DOING THE MOST.”
Do the imagery and patterns of your braids symbolize anything? I noticed a lot of halo braids, an arc, and one lady had a braided mask covering her face.
The one with the mask was actually inspired by an instrument called a shekere, it’s a hollowed out gourd with a lattice of beads on top of it. When they hit the hollow gourd it makes a sound. It is a rhythmic instrument, and I grew up around those all the time. A lot of people I know are involved in dance and music. So I was like, I want to kind of create a shekere. So that was the inspiration for that piece. I chose to use cowry shells, I think that they are beautiful. Coming from a background of dance, we use to embellish our outfits in cowry shells when we performed. Then going back centuries ago, cowries were used in different regions of Africa, as well as across the Pacific Islands as money. If you traded something with somebody you might be paid in shells. For me, it is about determining my own values because who says that a shell is not as valuable as paper money. Paper money’s value is really questionable, and is really only sustained by people’s belief in it. So, it is just something I think about myself. What is valuable to me, outside of what society agrees is valuable. Going back to my inspiration for different looks, another one in the series “Dorcas” the silhouette was inspired by a Benin mask I use to see all the time growing up. It’s kind of tan, made of light wood or ivory. A male face with arcs that stick up on its head. I wanted to use that silhouette as an inspiration. I lot of them were inspired by different things, just concepts. One of them titled, “Above All” where there are two women connected in the shape of a heart. Those women are actually sisters. For me, I was thinking of love in a communal sense. As black people, for me. the place that I come from your peers were your brothers and sisters and any adults that you were around were Mamas and Babas. So, sometimes blood sisters bicker, but above all you love them. That is your family in a broader sense. A sense of community as black people I think it is important for us to consider each other as brothers and sisters. You have to consider each other in that way, because no one else is looking out for us but us. So if you are not showing your brother or sister love you can’t really count on anybody else to. Sometimes it’s hard...It’s hard to love your brother, or hug your sister. It is a lot of crazy people out here doing crazy things. People that have been hurt and that are perpetuating that hurt, but above all there has to be love. That is the concept behind the title and the imagery.
THAT PIECE REALLY MAKES AN IMPACT. WHENEVER THEY SHOW THAT IMAGE ON A POSTER OR BANNER, I THINK TO MYSELF, “WOW! HOW DID SHE CONNECT THEM?”
They are really connected. They are sitting really close to each other. I braided their hair the day before into a kind of cornrow mohawk. I braided the mohawk together and then I used marley hair to kind of do a wrap technique similar to how they do faux locs, but around the mohawk and then out into a long straight faux loc flat piece. Then I connected them to the crest of the heart, but it is not exactly the center but off to the side. That was a lot to get them to be like that. It constantly moves so you have to keep adjusting them and reshaping them, because the core of it is wire. To give it kind of a sturdiness to stay up. But yeah, it worked out. It was really a great process creating these images, because many of them I didn’t really sketch them out. I just had the concept and then when I got with the models it would take shape. Then all of them were done for the first time, and they were shot that time. Yeah, all of them that you saw were done for the first-time by me. It was really cool because they all came out really lovely. I didn’t know how they would come out. They really nailed what I was trying to accomplish. I was really happy about the process of creating it. There was one I thought I would have to cut out, but it actually ended up working. I got a good frame! That was the one with the Heru headpiece and the braided bang, it is called “SunTrust.” Which that title is referencing the cowries being legal tender at some point, the bank reference, but also it is the like the model is depicting this optimism. The Heru headpiece sun disc inside of the bull horns. You know carrying the sun, the life source, and just optimism in general trusting that the sun will rise and there is a new day. So there is always a chance to turn it around, and trusting in that.
I AM SPEECHLESS. LET’S GET INTO YOUR TECHNIQUE. YOU SNATCHED UP THE KITCHEN AND THE EDGES. YOUR TECHNIQUE IS FLAWLESS. WHAT ARE YOUR GO TO PRODUCTS?
I grew up braiding with “Let’s Jam.” Yeah, that is a staple. I use a lot of edge control products. Recently, I’ve been using this edge control by Luster that is part of their “U B Natural” line. I used that product for the whole show along with “Let’s Jam.” Recently another old favorite that I have been using “Shinin Jam,” which is similar to “Let’s Jam” and similar to edge control. A lot of braiders use that. I also use an oil blend I make myself. I also use oil sheen, different brands; one from Luster, another from Isoplus.
SHANI, YOU ARE REALLY USING THE WHOLE OLD SCHOOL ARSENAL. (LOL)
Yeah, I’ve been braiding hair since I was a kid, so that’s what everybody used when I was braiding. You know, you do somebody’s hair; you got the “Jam,” you used the “Jam” to make the part straight and lay the hair down. Once you’re done you spray them with oil sheen and put a scarf on or something on. Now what I’ll use is foam. The foam I like to use right now is the “Lottabody Coco Shea” line. The foam is a wrap/setting foam. Lottabody is an OG line too, but this new product I use is super soft and flexible to hold. So I don’t have to worry about people getting flaky and itchy. It is giving you hold without that hardness. I also use “Elasta QP” foam too. It depends on what I see at the beauty supply at the time. But that is another good one with soft hold.
ARE YOU STILL ACTIVELY BRAIDING AND TAKING CLIENTS?
Right now, the clients that I do take are friends and family. I have a lot of friends and family. Since I have been braiding since I was so young, 11 or 12, I have clients since then. I’ve been able to take those foundational skills and push them to the next level. So now whenever I do something crazy like that, I want to photograph it or I feel I’m selling myself short. So now, I’m really just trying to focus on the art. My friends and family still get charged the same price that they have always been charged. I’m not gouging anybody. I really do it for the love and the art.
THEY GET THE FAMILY DISCOUNT. THAT IS REALLY GOOD TO HEAR.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE COLLABORATIONS COMING UP?
My Art Basel show will feature some of the original works, and then two works that have been painted on by another artist who I love who is like a brother to me, Max Sansing. He is an amazingly talented oil painter and graffiti artist. He was at Basel for the past few years, so people are probably familiar with his public art there. It will be interesting, he will take my pieces to the next level. I did one collaboration with him prior, and people went crazy over it. People kept inquiring about it. So I decided to do two more with him. It will be a triad of Max Sansing and Shani Crowe collaboration. Aside from that, the next solo show I am doing, the concept is RBG/ RGB, there is Red Black and Green/ RoyGBiv the spectrum, so it is going to be all color works. All colored works, I’ve wanted to produce. All people can feel it because it comes from a real place, but I know that for black people especially it has more of a meaning. It may be able to be felt on a deeper level. Black people are beautiful. I love black people. I am very proud of being black, and I want to produce work that is pro-black propaganda. Everything we do now, especially with social media, there are all these algorithms to track what you like, what you don’t like. Everything that you’re seeing are images that have been tracked and selected to sale to you. What I want to do with my imagery is sale black people to themselves. I want black people to be proud of their blackness. I want to sensationalize black community, black love. Because, why not! Because that’s what I am about! That’s how I feel because I hope to be able to inspire black people to really love themselves in that way. Being from Chicago, I hear about senseless violence and all this killing. I just think these kids don’t value their lives. You know we live in a nation that doesn’t value our lives either. So, I just think that it’s important to start with the people themselves, to get them to value themselves more.
WILL YOU BE PRODUCING ANY PROJECTS WITH CHILDREN OR MEN?
Yes, children, females. I have a video concept with men, that may appear in my next show. Depending on how everything goes. The concept involves a video of men with locs in motion. Kind of like aerodynamic locs. But because my work is autobiographical in a way, and personal my subjects will probably always be female. It is so personal to me, that whenever I imagineit will be women. My hair work for sure will be black women. And black girls too. The RBG/ RoyGBiv Spectrum series will include little girls.This year has been a blessing. This year has been a year of collaborations with publications. Because of the work I have been doing, I haven’t really been working on my personal projects. I have so many concepts, but I am starting to get antsy because I am not producing them. So I’ve gotta just give myself the time to do it. I’ll take a break from other collaborations for awhile.
YES. YOU’VE BEEN MOVING AT FULL SPEED. THIS HAS BEEN A YEAR OF GROWTH. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THIS TIME TO TALK TO ME SHANI. I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AT ART BASEL.