The use of extensions of hypertext allowing the provisions of audio and video material cross referenced to a text remains elusive on the local visual art front and majority of the African continent in general. The multimedia art form has been with us for ages now and is equally a formidable art tool of expression like painting, sculpture, etching, textile, installations etc. In this computerised modern world saturated with technological advancement and numerous software at mankind’s disposal one wonders why our part of the world’s practitioners have not embraced the medium. Is it because of limited techno-how education? Is it constricted affordability? Or it is just that they do not find it amusing as a medium that originated from elsewhere to ask few?
Recently Njelele Art Station, a gallery in Harare’s Kaguvi Street poked few in that regard when it hosted ‘The Crown’ a travelling art project by Shani Peters from New York, United States of America. The Crown is an interdisciplinary public engagement project, which utilises reference to crowns and headdresses of various African, Indigenous American, and western cultures as a method of celebrating and exploring the concept of self-determination. The installation in the iteration immerses viewers in an environment designed to make them feel energized and open to considering their personal autonomy in determining their sense of self, their understanding of the society they inhabit, and the ways in which they position themselves within it.
It was refreshing at the Art Station to see the audience on open air humid night in a jovial mood trying on golden crowns of shapes and sizes as part of the show. Inside a darkroom, various golden crowns were hung grouped together dropping from the middle of a ceiling in-between a projected wall of quick motion pictures and black projector placed next to a black speaker playing loud the Hip-hop anthem ‘The crown’ as its lyrics were being displayed on the visuals’ wall. Other visuals included various iconic portraits from the oppressed natives with or without crowns and such images as the Egyptian pyramids.
For the show Shani Peters said for the people whose economic and societal circumstances have historically oppressed, the concept of self-determination is either a wilful guide for one’s life or a notion so absent from their experiences that it is either an abstraction or entirely invisible. Shani said “As a child I knew self-determination as one of the seven principals of the Black American designed, Swahili influenced holiday, Kanzwaa. Also as a child I heard my father play on repeat an early hip-hop anthem called ‘The Crown’ by Gary Byrd, produced by Stevie Wonder. For me the song is the sonic companion to the theory of self-determination”
The Crown has been exhibited twice in Harlem New York in the ‘If You Build It, No Longer Empty’ show and at the new Sugar Hill Children Museum of Art & Storytelling. Following the installation at Njelele Art Station the project will travel to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. Her other projects include ‘Moving Murals: culture, history plus video’, ‘The People’s Laundromat Theatre’, ‘Half Hasn’t Been Told Stepping Out’, ‘We Promote….’, ‘ Boogie Down MC’, ‘Battle for the Hearts and Minds’, ‘Generations’ ‘RePROGRAMed: The Evans-Huxtable’s’ ‘Panthers’, and ‘for the Bell’s.
Shani Peters is a multi-disciplinary New York-based artist (b. Lansing, MI). Her work reflects interests in community building, activism histories, and reinterpreted notions of media access and content. She has exhibited in the US and abroad, at the Schomburg Center for Black Culture and Research, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (OR), Contact Theatre (UK), and at Seoul Art Space Geumcheon (SK). She has completed residencies with MoCA Detroit, The Laundromat Project, Project Row Houses, apex art to Seoul S. Korea, LES Printshop, the Bronx Museum Artist in the Market Place Program.
She is currently a Workspace Resident with Lower Manhattan Cultural Center in New York City.
In her artist’s statement she says “I’m interested in community building, activism histories, reinterpreted models of record keeping and popular media subversion. My perspective is influenced by my experiences being born into the ‘me’ generation of the social conservative 1980s by way of Black Power era parents who live by mantra of social responsibility. I produce studio work dense with historical research, appropriated material (highly recognisable and commonly overlooked), comedy, and rhythm, to tell new narratives of unseen victory.