We have been checking in with some of our grant winners in a series of interviews to see what they have been up to. Born in Atlanta, Shana Robbins is firstly a great painter that has merged that medium into all other categories. From sewing, performing, singing, filming, to painting, each informs the next, breaks it down and begins again. Minimalism to maximalism, Shana has created a body of work through the years that has dove into self-portraiture, rebalanced the gaze and invited us along. Where is she going?
Tell me about your favorite materials to work with.
I’m a post-disciplinary artist, so my favorite materials cross a spectrum of water-based paints, collage, fiber arts, film/video, and performance. But I always come back to the paintings on raw canvas, textiles, and paper, which serve as oracular blueprints for the other things I make. With painting, I also enjoy using flower waters and crystal powders.
What is your motivating factor in creating artistic work?
My motivation for creating art is best described using a quote from the feminist philosopher Rosie Braidotti: “in spite of our times and out of love for our times.”
What do you like most about the art that you make?
I like the way one thing leads to another with my artwork. When I follow the intelligence that emerges, I find myself in some wild, heartwarming places. I have been able to travel internationally and collaborate with some beautiful, powerful healers, artists, and traditional medicine men and women. This has been an incredible gift that has transformed my life.
Who are your influences?
My influences are constantly changing. Right now some artists I’m looking at are Francis Upritchard, Leidy Churchman, Lucy Dodd, and also traditional craft works using hand dyeing and weaving.
Alejandro Jodorowsky will always be a hero of mine…
Other influences: the 70’s shapeshifters like Adrian Piper, Ana Mendieta, Rebecca Horn, and Eleanor Antin; the Butoh artist Kazuo Ohno; stain and color field painters like Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis; also the Earthworks artists like Robert Smithson, Richard Long, and Judy Chicago’s women and smoke series. And I love Guillermo Gomez-Pena.
Some people I am looking at outside the art realm are feminist thinkers like Donna Haraway and Rosie Braidotti. And the ecologist Simona Gabriela Kossak. Also Gilles Deleuze, through osmosis, because I live with a philosopher-shaman.
It’s a real mixed bag for me, which I love.
The first art you saw that informed your practice and let you know that it was a possibility to become an artist?
When my older sister and I were little, my mom would do photorealistic paintings of us. I saw my mom as a maga, a bruja of sorts, because of her ability to rematerialize our faces with these liquid colors. I was inspired by her process….I remember a soft, feminine tranquility filling the room and how time slowed down when she was working. Those times brought a welcomed peace within the very turbulent household of my childhood. I followed a life-affirming intelligence within my art that led me out of that.
What do you feel you are trying to communicate with your work?
I am trying to communicate an affirmation of the beauty and life forces in the world. I use my body to represent someone who is a modern vehicle for channeling and communing with nonvisible natural forces and techno-spiritual patterns. I am also communicating that we are all indigenous to the planet. I do all this by embodying different eco-emissaries or hybrid beings, shifting their shapes and performing ritualized gestures within unique habitats. Surprisingly, I learned the art of shapeshifting by being a professional fashion model for many years. In that world, I used my body as a mirror, a screen, an in-between space, and a collage.
As an artist, do you think your work is political?
I definitely create work that is political. I think everything we do has political underpinnings and consequences. Right now we are in the midst of an intense focus on identity politics in this country. Not only that, but many of us are becoming weary of the predatory anti-environmentalism that capitalism has been channeling for so long. Because my work involves ecofeminism and third millennium shamanism, I am dealing with personal, symbolic, and political mappings around all of that. The “we” that I am representing relinquishes the notion of a fixed self within essentialist identitarian politics. In other words, my work aims to put forward new visual archetypes that embrace hybrid alterities and draw new cartographies of the present. This isn’t to say that I don’t acknowledge and honor the multiple heterogeneous voices and perspectives in this world. On the contrary, I am dedicated to defending those who are experiencing culturally asymmetrical power relations. My work is an invitation to my audience to identify, accept, and rework its own cultural horizons through an intimate, multi-sensory engagement with my art.
What is the connection between protest and art making?
For me an “acting out” or a “bodying forth” within performance art and other art forms can be a means of activism. A necessary destabilization or emergence of new possibilities can take place. The act of slowing down, forming an alternative collective, or opening someone’s heart can be provocative forms that disrupt a global capitalist agenda or unhealthy art apparatus.
What are you working on currently?
Since my September opening at the Zuckerman Museum, I have been working on new wall hangings that are also possible costumes. I’m also working on some new paintings as part of a series called The Noncorporeals. These are large-scale paintings that serve as portals for supernatural forces. They are carried through an exhibition space with accompanying sonic transmissions. These are mobile and exist off the wall.