Where do we begin with the work of this incredible artist! Trying to pin her down is like trying to capture a breath of fresh air ~ but we think we captured just a few of the parks, private spaces and campuses where we found her work. The artist, Yvonne Shortt,
We will start with her guerrilla sculpture series, African American Marbleization: An Act of Civil Disobedience, since most of her work seems to originate from her response to oppression and racism of African Americans in art, history and here at home. These pieces are cast in marble dust and installed outdoors as small sculptures. This particular series is self-initiated and self-funded to maintain the artist’s freedom. These sculpted fragments are sometimes installed in places where the artist experienced microaggression ~ and then she might sit near the piece and listen to responses from people passing by.
Inspired by the history of the wood and stone carved African Picks 5,500 years ago, Shortt began creating images two years ago, placing them on picks, with each ‘head’ telling a story.
Each ‘head’ symbolizes a part of her rich heritage and experiences, with braided decoration on some of the handles related to escape route patterns fleeing people of color used, or hiding rice bundles in the hair of children of color by their mothers, knowing there would be long rides ahead. Even the use of hair as a way to transport and deliver information. One of her Afro Picks entitled Bantu Knots & The Underground Railroad, shows the route to freedom from the south to New York and up to Canada (pictured below).
Her goal is to create public art celebrating people of color and encourage conversation. Many of her artistic heads relate to today’s issues living through COVID, dying hair, straightening hair, going natural hair ~ so she began a conversation about hair with Hair Stories.
Do you have a ‘Hair Story‘? Shortt invited a community to speak about their special, very personal hair stories. The Vimeo above relates just a few of her recorded hair stories from her sessions at the Ely Center of Contemporary Art in New Haven, Connecticut.
This project also coincides with the artist’s latest initiative, Picks from the Soil: Harvesting Community Narratives, whereby the artist focuses on the creation of afro picks from clay, harvested from the river and banks of New Haven, Connecticut. In collecting this clay, she is also highlighting relevant environmental issues, and engaging the community to discuss wetlands and our responsibilities to them.
From Shortt’s artist statement, “The pieces I create come from what I’m feeling living as an African American woman in my community. The pieces question privilege, disability, race, equality. Ultimately I try to create dialogue, action, and healing. My current series, African American Marbleization: An Act of Civil Disobedience, is about celebrating people of color, our culture, and the objects we use. The pieces are either fired in a kiln to create porcelain or cast in Marble Dust. Sometimes I incorporate other materials such as wood or steel. The clay I use is sometimes harvested from creeks in my community and fired in a pit. I’m interested in texture, tactility, and process. There are three components to my current series: objects, fragments, and architectural structure.”
“Fragments: These pieces are sculpted in clay then cast in marble dust. The pieces are then chiseled away to have a fragmented look. The fragments are often installed in spaces where I experienced micro/macro aggressions. The pieces are accompanied by a sign naming the aggression in hopes of educating the community and as a source of healing for myself.”
“Objects: I research my past then use my present to inform the structures I create. Objects may include picks, grease jars, curl patterns, patent leather shoes, or other objects of the African diaspora that I’m interested in exploring. Often the objects are created with clay harvested from creeks and river beds then pit fired with banana peels are other organic material.”
“Architectural Sculpture: Sol Lewitt sometimes used cement blocks and instruction sets in his work. These aspects have inspired my process. In addition, I am also exploring the physicality of labor involved in the overall process. In communities of color, these blocks often denote blight or decay. I’m interested in taking these objects and reimagining their possibilities. I investigate with architects, industrial designers, and others to create bodies of work for underground railroad homes, black burial grounds, and resource deprived public spaces.”
Yvonne Shortt: Hair Sanctuary (illustration above) will be unveiled in Socrates Sculpture Garden in October, 2021. The installation, which will be approximately 13’4″ x 13’4″ x 6′, will include a space for sitting, a space to listen to hair stories recorded around the world, a water element in the center, and a space for sculptures.
Shortt’s work is currently on view in Forest Park, Queens with her installation Yvonne Shortt with Mayuko Fujino, Joel Esquite, Anna Sedova, Elizabeth Barksdale, Peppermint ~ this is a whimsical take on the ever-present New York Poop Pickup predicament. The mixed-media installation is made of porcelain, metal and acrylic and reminds dog owners to clean up after their four-legged friends. This installation was inspired by the artist’s adventures in Forest Park with her own dog, Peppermint.
Afro Pick: Remembering & Moving Forward is the artists way to honor those who have died during COVID. It is also a way to celebrate the community moving forward. This installation is on view at MacDonald Park in Queens.
There are six art installations from the Afro Pick Series currently on view on the Queens College Campus. Afro Pick: Wildflower 1 (above) is located in front of Kiely Hall, Queens College. This installation will be on view for one year, and at that time, the bottom teeth will stay and a new ‘handle’ will go up.
Another from the series of six installations on the Queens College Campus is Dearest Grandpa (image above).
Afro Pick in the Garden of Resilience, Springfield Gardens, Queens, is a permanent art installation. It was inspired by the voices of children of the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora.
The Afro Pick created for Emmanuel Church (above image) on Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens will be installed in September, 2021 and will be a permanent art installation.
About the artist ~ Yvonne Shortt (b.1972, Queens, New York), is a Social Practice installation artist. After viewing her incredible work, it was a surprise to learn that she is visually impaired. It was no surprise to see that she uses her art to investigate disability, as well as inequality.
Shortt is no stranger to our pages, having covered her at Smack Mellon’s Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment in September, 2020; Her installation ‘Functional Bodies‘ in MacDonald Park was part of our September 2018 Roundup;
Her wonderful Afro Picks remind us of Hank Willis Thomas: All Power to All People at The African Center in 2019.