Shantell Martin on her spontaneous drawings that explore questions of identity


Shantell Martin, a visual artist originally from the UK, and now based in the United States of America, explores themes of identity and individuality through her art. His large-scale immersive works are created live. She says that when you draw with a watching audience, you don’t have time to hesitate and plan. And that’s when you can’t be someone else. Therefore, his own personality shines through in his works, in the most precise and authentic way.

In her artist statement, Martin explains that the future she imagines is vast and infinite, which includes a myriad of voices representing contrasting points of view that embrace traditional, avant-garde and other voices that we don’t have. not yet considered or fully committed. as we always seek a fuller and more inclusive acceptance of difference in our society. Its goal is to create a truly multicultural world. She says, “I’ve learned to embrace my versatile perspectives and double consciousness and see the strength and upliftment in my personal and cultural in-betweenness. These lines, shapes and figures are part of these internal dialogues of our common humanity that I lay bare. His preference for black and white work is an apt metaphor for his own existence.

Martin at work Photo: Michelle Mosqueda; Courtesy of Shantell Martin

I talk to Shantell Martin about her unplanned spontaneity and the ideas she expresses through her art.

Rahul Kumar: You are a visual artist, a philosopher, a cultural facilitator, a teacher, a choreographer, a songwriter, a performer… how does it all fit together? How do you approach the choice of discipline to materialize an idea?

Shantell Martin: Wow, that’s quite a long list. I would basically say that I don’t consider there to be a choice. I do not consider that there is a separation of disciplines. I don’t put my work in individual or specific boxes when I create. As an artist, as a philosopher, etc. I am more interested in exploring myself, my experiences, my surroundings, my past and my present in mediums or industries that intrigue me. Maybe when creating, areas that are also accessible to me. On top of that, I like to challenge myself by exploring different mediums/industries that I may not already be familiar with. Finally, I would say that as creatives, it is almost our responsibility not to put ourselves in boxes. We can expand the boxes and expand them. So on that note, I would encourage artists and creatives to explore different disciplines and devote themselves fully to them and not see them as limitations but as opportunities.

Presentation at Ralph Lauren, 2022, installation, ink on surface |  Shantell Martin |  STIRworld
Presentation at Ralph Lauren, 2022, installation, ink on surface Image: Theo Coulombe

Rahul: Your practice explores themes of intersectionality, identity and play. Please specify any conceptual concerns you wish to address through your work?

Shantel: I’m not sure I would use the word ‘concern’, but perhaps research or conceptual explorations would be more appropriate. In my practice as an artist, the core of my work sort of begins with myself. As someone who grew up not fitting in, not looking like anyone around me or in my school and environment, I first got to see how people treated me differently from others who fit in and looked and acted like everyone else (even if it was under some sort of pressure).

Shantell Martin creating a work Image: Courtesy of Shantell Martin

In a way, it made me very aware of my own identity. It encouraged me to be very observant of people and their emotional actions and reactions to race, class, and sexuality at a very young age. It is something that I have been able to explore through my art and my reflection. At the same time, I was also an observer of the functioning of the art world and the functioning of institutions. And that led me to understand the importance of openness, playfulness, transparency, accountability and candor. And I think that’s one of the many reasons why these are recurring themes in my work.

The May Room, Governors' Island, 2021, installation, ink on surface |  Shantell Martin |  STIRworld
the may hall, Governors’ Island, 2021, installation, ink on surface Image: Timothy Schenck; Courtesy of Shantell Martin

Rahul: Additionally, the spontaneous hand-drawn line in your work straddles fine art and design, and often offers a new relational perspective to the viewer with immersive experiences. How does your audience engage in deeper conversation and interpretation of your practice?

Shantel: It’s an interesting question. A big part of my job is to ask audiences and viewers of my works meaningful and thoughtful questions that they can take away with them, ponder and ask themselves. These questions are often about self, identity and place, for example, asking why are you here? Why do I watch too much TV? What are you going to do today? Sometimes deep and existential, sometimes playful and encouraging. On the other hand, I also encourage people to pick up a pen, draw for themselves, create and write more. On top of all that, I believe reflection is also a big part of this immersion. Make the viewer think about themselves creating and making art as a child and make them think and ask why and how it was so easy as a child but can be so difficult as a child. adult. So immersion is almost permission and freedom to be so creative.

The OCULUS, 2021, installation |  Shantell Martin |  STIRworld
THE OCULUS, 2021, installation Image: Steven Simione; Courtesy of Shantell Martin

Rahul: Are there any specific reasons why you chose to work only with the color black?

Shantel: There is no absence of color in my work. If you were to look back on my career as an artist, you would see so many colors in my work. Years of being a VJ in Japan attracting people for many years, collaborating with my grandmother, fashion collaborations with brands like PUMA, and colorful art exhibits. It’s just often that you have to search a little more to find those moments. That said, I think there’s something super compelling about working primarily in black and white. When working with lots of colors, our brain tells us how to see the color and in what order to see the color. But when we work in black and white, our brain doesn’t necessarily tell us where to look. Therefore, we all create our discoveries and rediscoveries with black and white works of art – a sort of choose your own adventurous way of seeing art. Black and white art can also be very soothing. If you were to enter a giant black and white installation, for example, The May Hall, there’s something incredibly calming about a space like this, but there wouldn’t be if it were super colorful. Finally, you can’t hide in black and white. When you create a black line, you can see every mistake, hesitation, and insecurity in that line. And I love the depth of something so simple that says a lot about the person who created it.

Martin creating one of his spontaneous works Image: Courtesy of Shantell Martin

Rahul: Please share the genesis of your new site-specific installation titled The future? What should viewers expect to experience when they encounter this work?

Shantel: The show itself is built around a manifesto I wrote called The future of art. This manifesto is a hope and a wish, and an encouragement for us to go deeper into how we support artists, how we protect artists, how we empower artists, and how we appreciate art and the artists who dedicate their lives to their profession. This manifesto has 27 points broken down into different works, from works on canvas to works on paper, including objects and the space itself. As the viewer walks through the space, I hope they have some experience of these meditative manifesto points that they relate to the art. And that they have the possibility and the space to reflect on the present and to hope for the future of art. Finally, I hope the show is a gift for everyone to question, explore and revel in this shared human experience.

Shantell Martin |  STIRworld
British visual artist Shantell Martin Image: Courtesy of Shantell Martin


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