Women Making History: Chanel and Shani of Harlem Textile Works (photo credit: John Thurman)
There are those women that seem almost unreal, in only the best ways possible. Poised, creative, and educated, they somehow manage to conquer every obstacle in their path–including the sometimes unfortunate obstacle that being a thinking woman in our society presents at times. Defying logic, these are the women that embrace their womanhood, and use it as the impetus to accomplish what was deemed “impossible” in the first place.
Chanel Matsunami Govreau and Shani Peters of the Harlem Textile Works are two of these very exact women. At the Harlem Textile Works, a design studio located in the historic Hamilton Heights of Harlem, New York, the female print-making duo teach classes in the fields of graphic, art, and fashion designs to youth in the under-served community. As art educators, their goal is to empower youth to pursue careers in the multibillion dollar design industries. While they impart their students with the practical skills necessary to support themselves in the future through the arts, Chanel and Shani also inspire their young students to begin using art as a non-linear way of thinking about life in our nation, and in the world at large. With this goal in mind, Chanel and Shani created a blog for their young students entitled Harlem Textile Works. They also created a larger forum called Grapevine Ink for female printmakers to develop community and discuss ideas of theory and practice. Needless to say, I am sure that these two multi-hypenated female artists/women who do it all get very little sleep! But with all the positivity they’re creating on the daily, we’re glad for it– get to know Chanel Matsunami Govreau and Shani Peters!
Harlem Textile Works in action!
Harlem Textile Works HQ
Below we get to know the ladies a little more, starting with a little rundown on each via a survey. Find out what floats Chanel’s boat and what sinks Shani’s battleship.
Shani Peters is a New York based artist (born in Lansing, MI) focusing in video, collage, printmaking, and social practice public projects. Peters completed her B.A. at Michigan State University and her M.F.A. at The City College of New York. She has exhibited and screened throughout New York, including group Rush Arts Gallery, the International Print Center New York, and the Schomburg Center. She has completed residencies at The Center for Book Arts, and LMCC’s Swing Space and is currently participating in the Bronx Museum’s 2010-11 Artist in the Marketplace program and is a Keyholder resident at the Lower East Side Printshop. In addition to personal and public arts projects she works as a teaching artist with various community organizations.
Shani Peters Artist Statement:
I am interested in the power of collective activity, in the identification of the self within the whole, and in cyclical patterns throughout history and generations. I strive to connect my individual studio practice to a broader social practice art. My studio work bridges my personal experiences with the collective history of Black people. Often, it examines this history and its present circumstances through the perspective of family structures as they are microcosms for larger societal conditions. My perspective is heavily informed by my own family and by the era in which I live. I was born into the “me generation” of the socially conservative 1980’s by way of faithful Black Power era parents who live by a mantra of social responsibility. The constant programming, imagery, and instantly accessible information delivered by media/digital expansions from the 1980’s and on has also been a major determining force in my way of producing art. By appropriating semi-public sources I cross iconic signifiers of historical figures and movements such as, Black Panther Party members, W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey, with those of fictional television characters, and contemporary cultural icons. I recompose these figures based on my perception of their historical relevance and more closely by the roles they’ve played in my personal socialization. My social practice is based in the same essential ideals that inspire my studio work: social collectivity, generational connections, and cultural record keeping, and seeks to provide tangible community service in a culturally rich, theoretical context. Today, I seek to fuse these influences by positioning one idea against, or with another, layering references through collage, print, installation, video and public art projects in an attempt to push back my own program- a new account, or record of existence.
Click on this image to see The Battle for Hearts and Minds by Shani Peters.
Women Making History: Chanel and Shani of Harlem Textile Works
Chanel Matsunami Govreau is a visual artist and performance storyteller. She currently lives in New York City working to complete her B.F.A. through independent studies via the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Matsunami Govreau is an experienced community
arts organizer who has used independent publication, muraling, radio broadcast, and dance movement in her activist work. Recently she started GrapevineINK, an international women of color printmaker’s collective. She works as a teaching artist at Harlem Textile Works.
Chanel Matsunami Govreau Artist Statement:
I make the majority of my art under the alias Queen Gidrea, as a femme response to the Godzilla dragon/villain King Gidorah. As an Asian-American women, I’m interested in subverting the dragon lady stereotype and challenging western appropriation, fetishization and capitalization of Asian culture.
The Armory by Chanel aka Queen Gidrea.
Shani and Chanel as a Team:
Shani Peters and Chanel Matsunami Govreau met as artists working for Harlem Textile Works (HTW), a historical arts education non-forprofit specializing in graphic design and screenprinting.
Shani and Chanel work in collaboration as teaching artists to create community events and educational programming for HTW. Currently they teach the HTW Design-As-Enterprise program together, and have started a “Harlem for Haiti” campaign with their interns to raise awareness and funds in the Harlem community. In addition, they are both active organizers for GrapevineINK, an international women in printmaking collective, started by Chanel this past year. Their close working relationship as teachers, artists and organizers has developed into a unique friendship that has empowered them to become leaders in their community.
We asked the ladies some questions to get some insight into who they are and what they do:
M.I.S.S.:What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you both find inspirational?
Shani: Harriet Tubman, Lorraine Hansberry, Elizabeth Catlett and
Chanel: I admire women who have and equal exchange of
empowerment with their communities and within their relationships.
Those who do not live by the myth of “give and take” but make all
actions expansions of love and respect to both themselves and the
world. I hesitate to list celebrity activists and artists, most heroes go
M.I.S.S.: How did you both get your start in screenprinting?
Shani: I started screenprinting down the street from Harlem Textile
Works (HTW) at the City College of New York. My instructors were
Meagan Foster and Carl Fudge, they are both serious printmakers,
and artists for that matter, and excellent teachers. I think the real
driving force behind my desire to try screenprinting was exposure to
the work of Emory Douglas, the artist/printmaker responsible for the
imagery of the Black Panther Party. His style and work is so strong
and inspiring, I wanted to tap into the tools the utilized.
Chanel: I started screenprinting in college at UW-Madison and was
lucky to have artist John Hitchcock as my professor. He continues to
be an incredible support. However, I started my first form of
printmaking with aerosol during high school. I did street art stenciling,
political costuming, and cupcake installations. My first print edition
was very DIY, with handcut stencils and fabric paint. It was a set of
“Lavender Menace” t-shirts for a staged re-enactment of the lesbian
feminist action of the same name from 1970.
M.I.S.S.:What’s your favorite piece of (art, music, fashion, client etc) that
Shani: That’s really hard to answer, hmm… honestly as much as I love
printmaking, video is my favorite medium. I actually think of contemporary video production as a first cousin to printmaking because with a decent computer you can pump out an ‘edition’ of say… 200 in no time. I love all of my video projects because they allow for so much expression. I can incorporate elements of design from screenprinting with collage, performance, video and audio sampling to express/reference multiple ideas in a matter of seconds- I
To Have and to Hold On by Shani Peters, 2008.
Chanel: This is one of the reasons Shani and I get along so well, we’re
both video artists and printmakers! We’ve definitely engaged in our fair share of discussion surrounding the importance of accessibility with our work and how printmaking and video help us achieve that. One of my favorite pieces is called Kannon Kaimono, its part of an ongoing street art installation series. Having lived in the U.S.A. and Japan, both huge capitalist/consumer countries, I wanted to address our simultaneous obsessions with acquisition, religious idols, and teenage girls. My newest piece in the series is called The Armory,
which I’ve prepared for a collaborative performance/print parade organized by artist Dennis McNett.
Kannon Kaimono by Chanel of Harlem Textile Works
In terms of video, I currently have a piece in the Brucennial called Triple Gidrea Vision, exploring white guilt and Gwen Stefani.
Triple Gidrea Vision by Chanel Matsunami Govreau
M.I.S.S.: Who do you want to collaborate with as far as screenprinting
projects in the future?
Shani: The women of GrapevineINK, of course!! There are plans for a
print date this summer. Beyond that, I cannot say, I’m just open to
Chanel: Yes! Shani and I are part of a building collective of
international women printmakers called GrapevineINK. As a recently
formed group, our first step is to simply learn more about each other.
We do collaborative interviews, engage in discussions about our work,
art practice and education. We post these to our website blog.
M.I.S.S.: What part of screenprinting is the most challenging and do
you dislike the most?
Shani: The most challenging part is planning ahead, anticipating all
the things that could go wrong and how to make an image come
together as intended. That part is challenging but I don’t dislike it,
what I dislike the most is clean up. Cleanup is the bane of the
Chanel: Printmaking is about process, problem-solving, and patience.
I’m a multi-tasker and workaholic, so I like to do things fast.
Printmaking has helped me slow down and meticulously plan my work.
Also, I’m still a messy printmaker. Honestly, I don’t care about making
clean perfect prints. I hate making editions of posters and t-shirts,
where everything has to be the exactly the same. I’m more interested
in printing to build a huge arsenal of work, that I can experiment with,
give away, and trade.
M.I.S.S.:Any advice for ladies who are just starting out in a career path
similar to yours?
Shani: My advice is to stick to your guns and produce the work that is
most meaningful to you. Reward in the arts is so subjective and
sporadic that if making the work itself doesn’t fulfill you, you’ll never
be satisfied with the ‘payment’ you receive. That being said, when
you are producing that meaningful work and getting even the slightest
positive feedback, you can’t imagine a sweeter discipline to engage
in! I can’t thank God enough for allowing me to do this with my life.
Chanel: Make a lot of art. Fail…and keep going. Build a community and
network to give you constructive feedback, support, and resources.
And yes, this may seem obvious, make what YOU like. Not what you
think other people want to see. Basically, you should be stupid
excited about what you make and want everybody on the planet to
M.I.S.S.: How has teaching helped improve your own personal screenprinting
Shani: Challenging yourself to teach what you make think you know is
the surest way to truly understand that skill or discipline no mater
what it is. Student’s want to reach outcomes that you may not be
interested in for your own work, so you’re forced to practice
techniques that you’d forget if you were working on your own. Also
your forced to verbalize actions that you normally just do without
thinking about. All of this deepens your actual understanding and
makes you a stronger problem solver.
M.I.S.S.: What do you want your students to take away from your classes, both in terms of artistic ability and life skills? Chanel: I agree. Everyone has an individual process for learning, and
wants to learn different things to accommodate their interests and
skills. For example, some students want to learn textile patterns,
which I’ve never done. Well, guess what? I’m now going to learn how
to do it so I can teach them. Their expanding curiosity and creativity
Shani: I want my students to take away a sense of their own power.
Particularly with HTW groups, whose instruction often focuses on
commercial design and/or fashion I want them to understand that they
are the ones setting the trends to begin with. I want them to value
their own brilliance and capability over the ascribed value of brand
names and logos. That type of confidence creates hot designs and
Chanel: Word. I want to see them use their skills and knowledge to
break out of this consumerist cycle and become powerful creators.
M.I.S.S.: Who are some screenprinters (female or not) we should watch out
for in the future?
Shani: Right now as an HTW teaching artist I’m working with students
from for the School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn, and form City As
School in lower Manhattan. There are young artists in both of these
groups who have soooo much talent! I’m looking forward to seeing
how their lives and work develop.
Chanel: I’m really excited about the work I’m seeing from other GrapevineInk members Ayanah Moor, Cerisse Palalagi, and Tyanna Buie. I hope to see HTW students join our collective in the future!