Art-making is just one part of a large and interconnected inner world that Shamira Wilson has cultivated. Her aura is calm but you get the sense that she is always weaving the parts together; synthesizing her experiences with nature, the divine, and her collective ancestry into something dazzling.
I sat down with Shamira in her unfinished studio next to Blue Mind Café–all dust, diffuse natural light, and unfinished wood–one dreary May morning to discuss legacy, reverence, and all the parts of her that make her whole.
Taylor Hurt (TH): How did you get your start in art?
Shamira Wilson (SW): There’s a lot to that. I got my first degree in psychology at Johns Hopkins University on the pre-med track. Although I was drawn to healing, that path didn’t feel right to me. I went back to school at Herron School of Art and Design but had to leave my junior year to get surgery. While I was healing, painting was the most accessible medium.
TH: You left the pre-med track, but it seems like healing is still really important to you...
SW: Yeah, if I look at the core of what I’m doing I still bring those values of healing and safety into my everyday life. These days it’s less about hospital protocol and more about plants, nutrition, diasporic foods, and community care.
TH: Did you get those values from your grandparents as well?
SW: For sure! My grandparents provided me with a lot of structure and groundedness. Being around them imprinted on me the importance of community and taking care of yourself and one another. I remember as a child greasing my great grandmother’s scalp and looking back not only was it an opportunity to show love, but to learn as well.
TH: Speaking of community, how did you become a part of The Eighteen Art Collective?
SW: I think someone reached out to me. After the mural we decided to stick together, and it really came together organically. We all knew each other from working in the arts but it’s been nice to become a collective and build trust and all the dimensions of connection over time.
TH: You have two pieces in the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields Stardust and Salt and Grandmother Mountain. Tell me about them.
SW: I created Stardust and Salt a few years ago. At the time I was really experimenting with a new way of painting. I left more water on the brush which created a more atmospheric and cosmic effect. The piece expands from the center which points to not only our ancestors who are in the stars but the stars in our bodies.
The story behind Grandmother Mountain also points to nature. My husband and I went on a two-week road trip from Indiana to California. In California there was a mountain in our backyard that I would just go and stare at. I named it Grandmother Mountain and that piece is what I would imagine it would be like standing inside and as a part of that mountain looking up at the peak.
TH: You reference nature a lot in your work, does that translate into other parts of your life?
SW: Absolutely, I am always in conversation with creation. Right now, I am in a farming apprenticeship. Eventually I’d like to be a land steward and have a dye garden because growing and being outside is such a large part of my art practice.
TH: I notice you like to use similar color palettes in your work…
SW: I really like reds, purples, indigos; jewel tones. Not only do they give a piece graphic strength when you have five seconds to drive past a mural, but I also use those bright colors in reverence to spirit, and nature, and family. Those colors feel like joy and celebration to me.
TH: What drew you to furniture making in the first place?
SW: I reflect a lot on interiors and the places from which we create. I grew up with my grandparents, an older generation, they appreciated furniture, they kept it for much longer and passed it down to the next generation. So that connection between interiors and furniture subconsciously makes me think of healing spaces.
TH: How important is joy to your work?
SW: Right now, especially in this season, I'm letting my excitement and my joy for things guide me. I recently did a piece for Blue Mind Café and it just felt right. I would go home with a smile on my face, and it felt good.
TH: With this new studio you’re entering a new chapter, how do you feel?
SW: It is a new chapter; I am letting myself be open to what it looks like without forcing it. I’m having fun and letting myself dream, and imagine, and play with what all this could turn out to be and I’m just taking it one step at a time.
You can see Shamira Wilson’s pieces, Stardust and Salt and Grandmother Mountain, in We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective in the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields through September 24, 2023.
You can also catch her work at the DeHaan Award exhibition in October.
We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective is presented by Aaron Wealth Advisors, Gary & Hannah Hirschberg. Lead support is provided by Rachel M. Simon & the Herbert Simon Family Foundation and June McCormack. Associate support is provided by IceMiller and its Racial Equity Solutions Team. Additional support is provided by Judy Donner, Nathan & Deborah Oatts, and Emily A. West.
Installation view of We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective in the June M. McCormack Forefront Galleries, September 23, 2022–September 24, 2023. Artworks © their respective creators.