WHAT INSPIRES PHOTOGRAPHY? VISUAL DISPATCHES IS A LOOK BEHIND THE LENS; AN EXPLORATION OF INSPIRATION AND THE CREATIVE JOURNEY. PRESENTED BY MILK AGENCY.
In Vol. 3, we spoke with Shikeith, photographer and multi-media artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Shikeith earned his MFA in Sculpture from The Yale School of Art (2018), and his BA in Integrative Arts from The Pennsylvania State University (2010). His work explores the experiences of black men, masculine vulnerability, and queer love, within and around the concept of psychic space. His work has been featured nationally and internationally featured in The New York Times (2021); The Alexander Brest Museum & Gallery, Jacksonville, FL; Locust Projects, Miami, FL; Atlanta Contemporary, Atlanta, GA; and The Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art, Pittsburgh, PA. In 2019, Shikeith received a Painters & Sculptors Grant from The Joan Mitchell Foundation.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOUR WORK? TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF – WHO ARE YOU, WHERE ARE YOU FROM, WHERE ARE YOU RIGHT NOW, AND HOW ARE YOU FEELING?
Shikeith here! I’m originally from Philly but currently living and working in Pittsburgh, PA. Today I’m feeling quite energized after a two-day shoot in New York City.
WHERE DID YOUR AFFINITY FOR PHOTOGRAPHY COME FROM? WERE YOU ALWAYS PHOTOGRAPHY-FIRST OR WAS MIXED-MEDIA ALWAYS A FOCUS?
My grandmother introduced me to photography, and it was via her practice of documenting my family through portraiture that piqued my curiosity. She always kept various cameras around me as a kid and allowed me to play with them. I also spent a lot of time with her rummaging through old family photo albums, magazines, and other print ephemera at her dining room table growing up. Later in high school, I begin to take photography more seriously, but I have always been an all-around artist.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOUR WORK?
What inspires me is always an evolving thing, but my personal history most inspires me. I always have that to mine through when conceptualizing work. Yet, there are other threads of inspiration weaved through all that I make. Right now, I would say African American cosmologies of the blues are at the forefront of my mind.
YOUR WORK OFTEN DEPICTS BLACK MEN IN AMERICA, AND MALE VULNERABILITY—IT’S ALL VERY VISCERAL AND EMOTIONAL. WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE DO YOU WANT TO CREATE FOR PEOPLE WHO VIEW YOUR WORK?
I think about the experience I had listening to music on Sundays with my family as we cleaned the house. There is a warmth in that memory that holds me tightly, and I hope to replicate it with my art-making. Beyond that, I also am engaged in challenging my viewers – it won’t always be a tight hug; sometimes, it’ll be more of a stern sit with this moment.
YOU’RE NOT JUST A PHOTOGRAPHER, YOU ALSO WORK WITH FILM, SCULPTURE, ETC., WHAT IS THE MAIN THREAD THAT RUNS THROUGHOUT YOUR PRACTICE? HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN DIFFERENT MEDIUMS?
The psychological landscape of Black manhood is the core focus of most of my projects. It holds within it in many histories and routes for me to explore, primarily through the lens of queerness. Concerning queerness, my practice, and the mediums I work with, I choose not to be fixed or rigid but fluid on my terms.
WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS LIKE? HOW DOES IT DIFFER WITH MEDIUMS?
My process is continually growing, but I can say I will split time between research and fabrication. The conceptualizing process can sometimes be a trap door for me because I enjoy it so much (sketching, digging through archives), but there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing things to the finish line, even if it takes awhile to get there. In my studio, I am also generally working across mediums at the same time.
DID YOUR UPBRINGING, FAMILIAL STRUCTURE AND DYNAMICS, AND/OR ENVIRONMENT AND COMMUNITY HAVE A BIG ROLE IN SHAPING YOU AS AN ARTIST OR LEAD YOU TO ART? IF SO, HOW?
YOU RECENTLY HAD AN EXHIBITION AT THE MATTRESS FACTORY IN PITTSBURGH—CAN YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR INSTALLATION? WHAT DID IT MEAN FOR YOU TO HAVE YOUR ART AT THE MATTRESS FACTORY, AMONG OTHER MUSEUMS?
I come from a creative arts family, so I never felt constrained in any way growing up to express myself through art-making. It was encouraged, from singing to poetry to drawing, my family allowed me to do me. They are indeed proud of the path I have taken on because they know firsthand how many years I have dedicated.
The Mattress Factory was the first place I experienced large-scale installation art, which immediately shifted my practice. Several years later, I returned as an exhibiting artist with my show “Feeling The Spirit In The Dark,” a site-specific body of work mediating over the color blue and the histories that haunt Black queer psyches. It was a phenomenal experience, from start to finish, that allowed me to challenge myself in the studio.
WE HEARD YOU HAVE A SOLO NEW YORK CITY DEBUT COMING UP, CONGRATS! WHEN IS IT, AND WHAT ARE YOU EXHIBITING?! (IF YOU CAN SHARE!)
Yossi Milo Gallery hosts my debut New York City solo exhibition in Spring 2022. There are no details I can share at the moment, but I am genuinely excited to have this moment.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE KNOWN FOR?
That’s a tricky question to respond to because, ultimately, it is out of my control, but the Capricorn in me would say my work.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE FUTURE?
With such an exhausting present, I still hope for true love, clarity, and peace of mind.
ANY PARTING WORDS?
Right now is the time to do you.
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