Shantrelle Lewis uses the arts as a tool for education, and education as means for activism. She has dedicated herself to her hometown, to people of the Carribbean disapora, and to the arts. Her work as a scholar and curator confronts issues related to race and gender. Beyond her impressive intellect, admirable politics, and noteworthy achievements, Lewis has a sense of humor and humble dynamism.
In a 2011 interview with Uptown Social, Lewis states, “By profession, I’m a curator but by trade I’m an educator.” In fact, Lewis began her career in academia. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Howard University and Temple University respectively. As an undergraduate student Lewis double-majored in Pre-Med Biology and African American Studies, and taught high school as her first job. She has gone on to work successfully as a curator and arts director in Philadephia, Chicago, New York, and New Orleans. According to the Uptown Social Interview, Lewis worked pro-bono for a year in her hometown of New Orleans after Katrina hit in order to revitalize McKenna Museum of African American Art.
In 2011, Lewis created her most prominent curated show yet, titled “Sex Crimes Against Black Girls.” The project began as a mixed media show, intended to explore “various levels of sexual exploitation and oppression suffered by young Black girls across the African Diaspora” and to “give voice to a demographic of society whose voices have historically been silenced.” The issues explored ranged from incest to female circumcision. Since the show closed, the project has continued to create dialogue and has taken on the form of an anthology edited by Lewis and Dr. Yaba A. Blay.
Lewis is the current Exhibitions Director at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) in New York. In addition, she is in the midst of creating a documentary in the Netherlands. Lewis is directing and producing a film titled “Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: the Documentary” which reached its kickstarter funding goal this past March. The documentary will examine the tradition of black face in the Netherlands that is tied to folkloric traditions. This tradition positions Zwarte Piet, meaning Black Pete, as an assistant (and in some narratives a slave) to Sinterklaaus. The documentary will look at not only the tradition, but also at the activists who are challenging it.
Throughout all of this work, there is a personal touch that Lewis brings, whether it is her aesthetic sense, her engagement with identity politics, or her personal history. In interviews and articles Lewis is steadfast, intelligent, sincere, and funny. In a +FAV article that she wrote for ARC Magazine, Lewis quotes Zora Neale Hurston affectionately, and reveals a complex relationship to her faith. On her twitter (@APshantology) she self-identifies as: “Curator. New Orleanian. Laugher. Vintage Wearer. Thinker. Passport Stamper. Afro-futurist. Witch.” Below this description, she lists her location as “Zamunda,” the fictional wealthy African nation from Eddie Murphy’s 1988 comedy “Coming to America.”
Only in her early thirties, Lewis has me both inspired and impressed. To continue to follow this thinker and laugher as she works and writes, read her blog at http://shantology.wordpress.com/
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