"To me blackness is the blues, desire, roundness," says black American artist, Shikeith

You use different media for your artworks: film, installations, photography, sculpture. Would you say that there is one predominant message across all these media? If so, what sparkled this theme?

There are always many messages contained in the ways I work, but that layering of possibility is the point. I’m drawn to multiplicity and expansiveness - not just within form or practice but in existing in the world. That carries through in the way I revise and multiply within the art work I generate.

MAK Gallery has recently held an exhibition of African American photographer, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn. Although she was born and raised in the US, she continues to photograph portraits and situations only from Senegal. Please, explain why you focus on black men in your works. What is blackness to you?

Creating with an unapologetically black vision is the most innate approach to art making, I could have. It takes me everywhere, from the blues, to desire, to roundness, and all other histories and aesthetic approaches I am interested. It is a limitless and generative way to making that I fully embrace like many of my favorite artists. I focus this way because it's the best way to speak back to what I see in the mirror. 

Men portrayed in your works are often unclothed, faceless, but devoid of eroticism, more like children. Do you think to be black and queer is as vulnerable as can get? How much of it comes from your own experience?

As an artist exploring an array of curiosities around a centered subject of black manhood and related histories, I can verify there is often very little distance between myself and the art I make. While I would disagree with the suggestion the black men portrayed are child-like - there is an innocence and vulnerability primarily attributed to non-Black children and adults that likely registers psychologically as foreign to unsuspecting gazes. 

The image recurrent in your photographs is the balloons. They seem to symbolize a medium of escape from the current predicament. Is escape the only solution?

The balloon, is a recurring motif across my photographs and films, because it plays a significant role in my language around liberation and vulnerability. While it is most recognized as a symbol of play or acknowledgment of celebration - it has been marked in my personal history by a repeated dream in which riding a balloon into the sky was his only escape from past torments. When thinking about this in relation to queerness and futurity as described by queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz, the balloon represented in my work, is deeper than simply escape but rather a marker of possibility. 

You are now considering curating an exhibition for MAK Gallery, Venice. Please, tell us about your assumptions for the show and criteria for the selection of artists. 

The exhibition is tentatively titled, "Mysticism in the Flesh", that in short explores the artist as an alchemist who investigates notions of nothingness, the spirituality of marginalized bodies, and transmutation as an ecstatic experience. It’s a group of emerging artists working largely within the field of abstraction that are pursuing projects that have deeply resonated with me.

 

Interview held by Michał Begiert exclusively for MAK Gallery