With Tenderness & Fierce Love: An Interview with Creator Shanel Edwards

With Tenderness & Fierce Love: An Interview with Creator Shanel Edwards

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Who are you as an artist? As a human? What do you do/make/create/breathe?
I am a tender, honest, passionate, artsy fartsy creator. My crafts of choice are dance, photography, poetry and hairstyling. I create work that centers Black queer folks in all their glory and my experiences as a First Gen Jamaican American Queer GNC person. It’s honestly what I breathe; everything tastes/looks/feels like art.

How would you describe your artistic journey?
It often begins when I am outside, and/or listening to music. Whether is a lyric or a fallen leaf or a boy staring into his ice cream cone walking by. I am in constant gaze of my surroundings. I am often locating texture in everything. It’s so so engaging, so beautiful. It does gets overwhelming at times and I find myself disassociating, but I look to dance and my friend group to ground me. Even in a funny tweet or strange dream they’ve had. It pulls me forward to the present. My mom has been a sustainable support system, by not doubting that all this art shit will lead to somewhere. And my friends have been a lifeline. At the moments where I start to prioritize self-doubt and imposter syndrome, my friends step in always to remind me of my worth and pull me back to myself. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH.

How do art, activism, healing, and wellness intersect and intertwine for you?
Hmmmm, this is a big question. I think my lifestyle is constantly in communication with the art that I create and the ways I am tender with myself. First and foremost, I try to stay hydrated. I also am constantly in a position of unlearning and relearning myself, my queerness, my fluidity. It is important to understand the fluidity that my body requires. I am also interested in learning the landscapes of oppression that lie outside of my personal identity. I want to employ myself with the knowledge of the world, the complex ways white supremacy/colonialism rob people globally. More specifically though my artwork centers my identity/community. Whether it is doing their hair, writing work about our experience or working with Black Queer femmes for a video project (which i did, shameless plug: “This is For Us” is a choreographed visual that centers Black Queer Femmes and our intimate friendship circles that are key to accessing joy and survival), being surrounded by my community in my work really tends to how difficult and tiring life can be. My undergrad degree is in African American Studies and Psychology and I try at every turn to use the knowledge in conversation and in creative/lifestyle practices.

How do you care for yourself and your people?
With others I care with tenderness, and fierce love. With honesty, laughter and hard conversations surrounding trauma, accountability, etc. With encouragement. One of my favorite mantras is, “you’re doing great.” I want to make sure my people know I see them. For myself, I’m having a hard time consistently caring for myself. But overall, I am practicing patience, slowing down, listening to my body cues, learning what to say no to and letting go of the guilt that comes with it, and not holding too much space for anyone, specifically white people, who comes to me for guidance. For me, that is a radical act that helps me to serve my community and other communities that experience paralleled trauma and injustice.

How does your art relate to current events?
I create work that center and uplifts the most marginalized communities, ie: black trans/queer/femme people. Being in the current political climate and the ways we have been historically oppressed and attempted to erase, that is how my work relates to current events. I want to create space for these communities that I am connected to.

Who inspires you?
My friends, my ancestors, the trees, and water. Definitely my cats. And my past self/future self.  

How are you growing as an artist and as a human?
I am taking time to unlearn toxic shit! Which is pivotal to growth for me. I am also in therapy currently unpacking past trauma, trying to reorient myself in my own body. I am also learning how to say no; I’m learning to gauge what yeses are more important to my overall goals. I can’t do everything; I can’t be everywhere.

What affirmations do you have for other creatives of color?
You can do whatever you dream of. Self-doubt will come and go but that still doesn’t take away your ability to achieve whatever success you dream. Those dreams are simply manifestations of your where your body and soul will end up. Go get that shit; it’s yours. What you dream of, dreams of you back. What art you crave and love, loves and craves you back. You deserve ultimate success.

more about the artist:
Shanel Edwards is a Black Queer Non-Binary Philadelphia based movement artist, photographer and poet. Their work centers Black Queer Femme-hood, intimacy as a tool for healing, and radical joy. Shanel is a world builder who does not rely on capitalist structures to imagine art that holds space for radical joy and magic to thrive. Shanel's poetry has been published/featured in Wusgood magazine, How to Take Space (2017) & "Vanishing Point" (2018). Shanel received an Art and Change grant through The Leeway Foundation (2018), to produce and direct a choreographed short film 'THIS IS FOR US' and the Small But Mighty Arts Bartol Micro Teaching Artist Grant (2018) to teach dance classes centering Black Queer individuals. They hold a BFA in African American Studies and Psychology from Temple University.

You can keep up with Shanel’s radiance on Instagram and Facebook.