Shaye Gregan on Dismantling Racism Through Art.
Anjelica Angwin: Shaye Gregan on dismantling racism, revealing creative turn-ons and words of advice.
Meet Shaye Runyararo Czicslaw Themba Koman Gregan; AKA Shaye Gregan, a London-based Melbourne-born artist and striking acrylic painter. His latest series ‘Don’t touch mf’ speaks to the ongoing frustration Black people all over the world face when non-Black people insist on touching their hair. In a chat via the web, @shaye_tek dismantles anti-black beauty standards, reveals his creative turn-ons and offs, as well as aspirations to go travelling with his mum and make a short film.
Hey Shaye, I’m a big fan of your work, especially your ‘Don’t touch mf’ series. Can you tell us about it? ‘Don’t touch mf’ is a series for black people all over the world. It addresses the ineffable frustration most black people go through when someone reaches out and grabs your hair – which happens too often! Black hair in all its grandeur is so intrinsic to black people; it’s like our second heart. We take pride in our hair.
Sadly, a lot of black people don’t see their hair as something take pride in, because of the ways society portrays certain kinds of beauty. So many black girls and boys hate their hair growing up. So many black men shave their heads because it’s not seen as “professional” in a world run by white men. Many black women spend more time, money, and energy straightening their hair – and often with products and heavy-duty straighteners (irons basically), that end up destroying their hair.
‘Don’t touch mf’ is a series for black people. To remind us that our hair is unequivocally beautiful and something to be proud of!
How has COVID-19 affected your practice? And how you push through? My practice changed during the first lockdown here in London. I wasn’t able to use my studio – instead, I started using my roommates iPad and a program called Procreate. At first, I wasn’t into the idea of using this program, but after about twenty minutes of playing around, I was hooked.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Going for a big walk, conversations with the people I love, late nights researching and my ancestry.
What turns you off? Life can turn me off feeling creative. Sometimes I don’t want to create anything – not even a cheese and tomato sandwich. There’s always so much happening, and it can feel overwhelming and stressful to keep up. I find when I’m trying to please everyone, I forget about my own feelings; it’s hard to find that spark when you’re not feeling yourself.
Who are your favourite artists? And why do you admire them? I recently stumbled across an African American artist called Charles White. He was an amazing artist and teacher. Charles taught at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and helped many African American artists find their own language within their work. He’s also taught some of my favourite artists, David Hammons and Kerry James Marshall.
This is Charles White with his students back in the early 70s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEYuIf-22jA&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=LosAngelesCountyMuseumofArt
How does technology affect your life, your art, or your relationship to yourself and others? Having an iPhone can be very distracting. I tend to put my phone on aeroplane mode when I go to my studio. It helps me concentrate and give my work the energy it deserves. The less I’m on my phone, the more productive I am. But, I do use the internet to showcase my work and connect with other artists around the globe. The internet is both a blessing and a curse for me.
If your art was…
… a song?
Astronomy (8th Light) by Mos Def and Talib Kweli AKA Black Star.
… a flower?
It would be a seed in the ground.
… a piece of clothing?
A hoodie saying “fuck white supremacy”.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Best advice you’ve ever given?
And lastly, what are your plans for the future?
I want to explore new mediums within my work. It feels essential to venture out of my safe space, to try new things and grow. I want to see more of our planet. I’d like to travel around with my mother, who hasn’t left Australia since she was a little girl (only to visit her motherland in Zimbabwe). And, I’d like to learn more about my body and the food that I put in it; become a better reader – I’ve always been a terrible reader; and one day soon, make a short film.