The groundbreaking multimedia artist Shantell Martin is known for her signature black and white drawings exploring themes such as intersectionality, identity, and play. Martin’s animated drawing, THE QUESTION, is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s first-ever NFT acquisition. She has exhibited her work at institutions such as Albright-Knox, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, and MoMa. Her practice continuously pushes the boundaries of creative expression through thoughtful, innovative collaborations with artists, brands, and cultural institutions such as the New York City ballet, the Pulitzer Prize-winning performance artist Kendrick Lamar, acclaimed designer Kelly Wearstler, the Boston Ballet, Tiffany & Co., North Face, and Nike.
In all of her many roles, Martin’s primary purpose always seems to be helping others succeed, from inspiring people to pick up a pen to draw and empowering emerging artists, Martin uses her achievements to lift others up. We spoke to Martin and asked her some questions about her current and future plans.
Your entry into the NFT market has been quite a success. Why did you decide to go this route and how has it added to your practice?
That’s very kind of you to say so. I’ve always loved experimenting and trying out new technology and pushing my work to different mediums, so NFTs seemed like a good segue to try all those things.
Does the animation of your work for NFTs change the way you create?
Not really. I’m creating in the same way as I was before, but now that I’m working mostly with collaborators to animate the work, I’m often drawing on templates/layers digitally versus on paper, canvas, etc.
How do you choose who to collaborate with and how do you navigate those relationships?
I have a little bit of a list to figure out if it’s a partnership that’s the right fit. Those include doing they ethically/morally align with where I’m coming from? Is it something that will challenge me? Would I be exposing my work to a new demographic? Is it something that I have the time/bandwidth for? Is it something that values me as an artist?
Your work to empower artists is inspiring. How do you help the artists and what results have you seen?
There are so many ways over the years that I’ve been helping artists. From general advice to helping them find studios and apartments, sorting out finances, and introducing creative connections. In those instances, I haven’t really cared about the results, but more so being a helping hand when and where I can. I have seen a lot of these artists find themselves and excel in the mediums that they’re working in, which of course is something I encourage and love to see.
You wear many hats both as an artist, cultural facilitator, choreographer, and on and on, as well as managing the business of you. How do you do it all?
Sleep well, slowly learning how to delegate, I don’t take on more than I’m able to, and I also try to have a very balanced life. When I’m working, I’m really working and when I’m off, I’m off – this is really helpful.
What advice do you give new artists entering the market?
Take your time, figure out a way of pushing and evolving what you’re already working on, and find a support network of like-minded people.
Can you explain the importance of your question “Are you you?”
“Are you you”, is an evolution of the question, “who are you?” Often, when you ask yourself this question, you might get to a resolution or an answer, but then you have to start asking that question in a new way to keep growing — that’s where “Are you you” came from.
What’s next on the horizon?
I’m working really hard at trying to do nothing. It’s a lot more challenging than I believed. Aside from that, you’ll see me doing more live performances in the future.
All images with courtesy of Shantell Martin