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.

Supporting Everyday Peace & Everybody Black: An Interview with Storyteller Javetta

Who are you as an artist & as a human?
My artistry is the storytelling of my human experience; they are inseparable and pretty much the same. I am on a lifelong journey to capture the depth of community, and of day to day experiences with writing, photography and conversation.

How would you describe your creative journey? 
More than half of my journey was about ignoring my creative self. I had a hard time accepting that I was on a creative journey to begin with.  Only in maybe the last 2-3 years did I start walking in the work that I want to do with my life. So because of that I have two beginnings - the first was spent listening and watching for 20 something odd years, the second was taking the step to do the things I had always wanted to do but felt too unskilled/afraid/intimidated to do. Mostly my challenge is money and resources. I have tons of ideas and visions but they take time and money. But even underneath that, it’s really that I still feel inadequate or unqualified to put out the kind of work that I want to do so I feel like having better equipment or resources would make my work more legitimate. I go back and forth with that but I’m starting to care less about seeming “legitimate” and focus on just doing the work. My community, friends and other artists have been super helpful from patreon funding to buying my work to just bigupping my posts. That’s a great feeling because my work is for my community so it’s a great cycle that my community that supports me too.

What role does healing have in your art?
Healing is literally the only reason I do anything LOL. I feel like the communities I’m apart of have been denied the resources and knowledge to heal from the wounds purposefully cut into us by white supremacy and all its tentacles. Because of this system that we have been chained to, we have been taken away from our own community healing and are violently interrupted whenever we make moves to reconnect to the peace that’s rightfully ours. Because of all of that, my work is deeply connected to everyday peace, resistance and emotion.

How do art, activism, and wellness intersect and intertwine for you?
Art, activism and wellness are one and the same. Art to me is simply the act of creating anything, from a basketball goal with a wastebasket, to cultivating weed, to full spread murals.   It takes pieces of different things and makes something new. Activism is a state of being – every breath drawn in a system that tries to kill you is an act of resistance. Wellness or doing things to take care of yourself is resistance as well, for much of the same reason that our bodies and minds are constantly being attacked. So for me these three are not things that you have to “do” in a career or lifestyle sense but are a part of day to day life for people whose lives are constantly on the line. They intertwine because they are an inherent right of being human and accessing art, wellness and the right to be free is part of being able to be a free human being regardless of how society views your race, class, sexuality, gender, citizenship and the like.

How do you care for yourself and your people?
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to care for myself and my folks. Part of that is stepping away from needing to have it all figured out, but taking the time to notice when some real shit comes my way and scooping it up. Real shit like patience, listening and supporting, eating more regularly, acknowledging I have real low capacity when it comes to living up to other people’s expectations and etc. It’s a day to day thing. Day to day I try give back to myself and my folks in ways that might be small but are hopefully impactful. I want to do more though and I feel like my art can be a bigger gift of care back to them and I dive into it more.

What art of color are you excited about lately?
I’M ROOTING FOR EVERYBODY BLACK!!! Honestly, everything I see coming from every Diaspora community has me hype af. I would have to just hand over my IG/FB accounts because everything that comes across my feed has me so inspired. The fashions! The photography. The poetry. The videos. The music. Alluhit. All.uh.IYT! I really do feel like we in the first quarter of a Global Black Renaissance and I’m sopping all of it up. I can’t not shoutout Jenn Nkiru’s work Black Star: Rebirth is Necessary though. I’ve been rewatching this film for months and everything about it is everything.  Also Jenn Nkiru was recently the second unit director for APESHIT by Beyoncé and Beyoncé’s Husband and just everything about her style, delivery and content has me so inspired to dig more into finding my style and my community’s voice.

What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to finishing about 3 separate but related working projects – a community gallery, a book, and something else that’s coming to me but hasn’t formed completely yet. I had the timeline way too short on them because I felt a need to be hyperproductive but these will probably be taking up my attention for the next months/years. I’m just encouraged to dig more into my photography, writing and storytelling and to really liberate the restrictions I have on myself as an artist and the impact my work can have.

What affirmations do you have for creatives of color?
This is your birthright. As people of color, creativity and artistry are a part of who we are and our daily practices. You got this shit. Everything you create was needed here, right now at this time. You the shit. Point blank period.

more about the artist:
Javetta (Vetta From Down the Street) is a storyteller by speech pattern, and a historian by way of gossiping. Her work is centered on community healing and exposing the magic in the mundane. Her greatest accomplishment is writing the obituary for her grandmother’s funeral. Through an authentic truth, she works to creatively connect with her community and channels writing and photography as healing mediums to do that work. Javetta was born and raised in Albany, Georgia and currently names it as a home base while travelling and making community throughout the African Diaspora.

Keep up with Javetta via her website, on Instagram, and on Facebook here and here. Check out her chapbook callus. She welcomes donations via Cash App and Paypal. She loves to travel and collab with creatives of color and queer creatives.