As a metalsmith I make work through the investigation of materials, objects, craft processes, body adornment and people. This investigation relates to my interest in the history of post colonialism in America. I create objects that address issues of racism, sexism, and stereotypes to provoke the viewer into critical engagement.


I research like a detective who tries to fill in the blanks in a history that excludes working class minorities: The faceless and nameless who worked the land picking cotton, digging coal, and cleaning ditches. I am incensed in the history of the “War on Drugs”, and how it has become our new racial caste system. First there was slavery, second there was Jim Crow, and now mass incarceration partake of that same legacy. Like everyone, I am influenced and provoked by the media. If you are black seeking a role model or hero in the media it would be a struggle. In my work I attempt to juxtapose the past with the present, in order to critique a society which refuses to see.


I am fascinated by the clothing young black men have been wearing over the years. The styles that originated in prison and gang culture, are now considered trendy and hip. I am an observer of material culture and fashion, stemming from my interest and experience in the crafts and domestic handwork. I appropriate those sources into sculptural outcomes that connect the material and process to symbolize the continuous chains of slavery.  I seek to visually, represent the weight carried by mostly black and brown men and women. In a way I allow myself to be exploited in in the process. I am implicated in these issues in ways that evoke a strong ambivalence. Through my inquiry I employ materials such as hair, plastic, steel, aluminum can tabs, chains, and zip ties: supposedly worthless materials that have a long history, currency and agency in within the postcolonial context.


Most recently, I have been sculpting with plastic bags that retain the trace of drugs to transform them into sculptural clothing. The meaning can change depending on who wears the object, conveying either privilege or disadvantage.  I transformed the material of a hooded sweatshirt into aluminum can tabs and jump rings to invoke an attempt for protection. In the past men wore chainmail on the battlefield for protection from swords, snake bites, and crossbows. However chainmail became obsolete with the invention of guns. Although, my hooded sweatshirt visually looks very heavy. The material choices I made along with the title “Bulletproof” is a commentary on the armour like quality of the piece, an attempt to protect but will ultimately fail protection from a bullet.


I feel like I have to speak out for the marginalized especially in the face of a whitewashed culture industry and art world. The history of black art carries the links of protest and injustice. It is important for me to add on to that dialogue and to push the notion of “black art” forward to something with meaning and beauty.


-Shani Richards