Shaunda Holloway Art Exhibit Opens Doors – New Haven Independent

by | Sep 27, 2021 9:19 am
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Posted to: Arts & Culture, Visual Arts, Whalley
The collage on the walls of the bookstore is a riot of changing shapes, swimming text, faces melting in and out of form, like water in a stream. Around the collage, a series of faces, offering expressions that are both confident and challenging. They invite you in, but with an edge. You may be tested. You may be challenged. But you will be accepted. On one of the paintings is a statement hovering somewhere between a mandate and a mantra: “Be heard.”
The pieces are part of “Strong Ones,” a new exhibit by New Haven-based artist Shaunda Holloway, running now at People Get Ready Books on Whalley Avenue through Oct. 31.
“I chose the title because it’s indicative of my situation right now,” Holloway said at the show’s opening on Friday evening. “This Covid thing — it just hit so hard. It takes a lot of strength to persevere, and I think a lot of my pieces speak to perseverance.” That’s true of the subjects in Holloway’s work; the faces she creates are suffused with dignity and resolve; they hint at suffering acknowledged and worked through, and a kind of power gained in the process.
The idea of perseverance also applies to the way Holloway makes art. She made some of the pieces in the show before the pandemic began, but most were made more recently. “I make art out of anything I can get my hands on. I see something, I find a way to bring it to life,” she said.
She can trace her attitudes toward art making back to her childhood growing up in the West Rock housing development, close to Rockview Terrace, when she and her friends made clubhouses and decorated them with whatever they found at hand. “At the time when you were creating, you weren’t thinking, ‘I’m in the projects.’ You were thinking, ‘let’s have some fun,’” she said.
“It taught me to see beauty where I am,” she added. “That’s what the doors are about.”
She meant a few of her most recent pieces, a series of paintings done on doors she collected. Why doors? “A door is a metaphor,” she answered. “Doors are opportunities. Doors are closure. Doors are everywhere. Why not doors?”
She credits a friend with helping her figure out how to get the doors to stand up vertically on their own. “Leaning them back, you couldn’t get the full effect. They didn’t speak as loudly or as clearly,” she said. Now that they stand in thin air, it’s possible to get a glimpse of seeing them they way Holloway sees them. It’s possible to imagine that they could swing open on invisible hinges, and reveal a portal to elsewhere, or perhaps to a richer understanding of yourself and where you are, or where you want to be.
Holloway connected with People Get Ready Books through an acquaintance who suggested that Holloway’s artistic vision and the goals of the bookstore, which serves as a community space on Whalley Avenue as well, aligned.
“Everything she said was true,” Holloway said. “The energy in here is just fantastic. It’s hard to leave without buying a book.” Holloway draws particular inspiration from the space as a published poet and writer herself. She counts herself lucky “to be able to come in here and find what I would find in Harlem — and I don’t have to catch a train.”
“I’m grateful they’re here because it’s accessible to the community,” she added of People Get Ready. “Books are like bread to me. To come in here is to be fed, as a reader and a writer.” Holloway’s love of literature seeps into her art as well. One piece on the walls of the bookstore’s space is inspired by novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. “Her characters speak as people actually speak,” Holloway said. “She was ahead of her time.”
“Art sustains me,” Holloway continued. “If I’m not making art, I’m not happy. It’s a matter of choosing happiness.” Art also connects her to the community around her, especially as people feel a little more ease congregating safely again. (It helps that the entire front wall of People Get Ready is a bay door that can open the bookstore to fresh air.) “I enjoy being among writers, among artists, and people who appreciate those things, even if they don’t make anything,” she said. As if on cue, a steady stream of new people arrived at the space, ready to take in her art, the literature around it, all of it.
“Strong Ones” runs at People Get Ready Books, 119 Whalley Ave., through Oct. 31. Visit the bookstore’s website for hours and more information.

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