Photo by Melissa Blackall | Shaka Dendy, Gestures of Incompleteness, 2019

Shaka Dendy

Summer 2019 Public Art Resident

Artist statement

Shaka Dendy is a conceptual artist working to explore and complicate Blackness, by recontextualizing Black experiences and aesthetics in an art-historical framework. His interdisciplinary practice includes sculpture, performance, installation, video, and music, and makes use of conceptual art, minimalism, arte povera and the avant-garde, in order to critique and confront norms—all with a singular humor and wit.

He is a founding member of Boston-based industrial rap band Camp Blood, and received his MFA from Emerson College. He lives and works in Boston.

Tell us about your BCA artist residency project.

I organized a series of basketball exchange drives in different community hubs, where I gave away brand new basketballs in exchange for old and used ones. The used basketballs were then repurposed and used as materials, along with found milk crates, for my large, temporary public sculptures on the BCA Plaza.

Tell us what inspires your work, and how that is expressed in your process and/or in the work you are making.

Culture, history, art history, languages written/verbal/visual – I think all of these come through in my work, with my own unique take on them, combined for something more singular.

What about your process is uniquely you?

My actual art production is the little 15% of the iceberg poking above the surface to be seen by the public. The majority of it, the other 85%, is all of the constant thought, contemplation, and anxiety that swirls around for weeks and months leading up to it. Maybe these thoughts are uniquely mine? Maybe not.

Is there an idea or a subject that you’re particularly obsessed with right now?

Black subject-object ambivalence. Or, how the Middle Passage turned African peoples into objectified and dehumanized “Black” objects upon coming to America. This tension between black people as both subjects and objects is my primary entry point to investigating blackness and its functions as a specifically western construction.

Tell us about an art experience in Boston that made a lasting impression? Or, tell us about a piece of art in your home/studio that you love.

Spending time working in museums and observing how people, children specifically, do or do not access or interact with art definitely spurred me to find ways of making art experiences super immediate for the tourists. While also still being substantial and fulfilling for the purists.

Who does your art speak to? Are there communities you work within?

My art uses a lot of different languages to say a lot of different things, and is usually saying more than one thing at once. So it speaks to whomever understands it, however they understand it — formally, conceptually, aesthetically, referentially, etc. My messaging is often directed at Black people and experiences, but this isn’t necessarily always my audience.

Tell us your biggest art blooper moment.

Losing a hard drive full of ephemeral work while installing a sculpture show — the universe is hilarious.