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© Sharene Shafie

Career Launcher: Artscape Youngplace



The Centre for Emerging Artists and Designers (CEAD) is excited to announce that recent Criticism and Curatorial Practice graduate Sharene Shafie is the recipient of the 3rd annual Artscape Youngplace Career Launcher!

This Career Launcher is a joint opportunity between the Photography and Criticism and Curatorial Practice departments at OCAD University. This year, photography students are offered the opportunity to participate in an extended group exhibition in the Hallway Galleries of Artscape Youngplace. The curatorial team at Artscape will work with faculty and CEAD to transform the Hallway Galleries into a showcase of emerging contemporary photographic practices, for select recipients.

As part of the Career Launcher, a jury that included recipient Sharene Shafie selected a photographer from the group photography exhibition, Farihah Aliyah Shah, and awarded her a solo show in 2017. The solo exhibition recipient will be provided complimentary access to Youngplace's Flex Studio facilities in order to help realise their exhibition of new work. In addition, an essay will be commissioned from Sharene Shafie to accompany the solo exhibition.

The solo show recipient will be provided complimentary access to Youngplace's Flex Studio facilities in order to help realize their exhibition of new work. In addition, an essay will be commissioned from the CRCP student to accompany the solo exhibition.

In the beginning of 2017, Sharene commissioned an exhibition text for Farihah Aliyah Shah's solo show at Artscape Youngplace.

Billie Said 'Strange Fruit' - Sharene Shafie

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth.
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Where do black bodies exist in the history of representational art? Rarely depicted, when they were, they were often portrayed as slaves or exoticized figures. Black individuals have never had their own space in traditional art making. In response to the Black Lives Matter Movement and the current political tensions between Black Americans and the police, Shah intends to challenge this lack of representation in her series of photographs entitles Billie Said 'Strange Fruit'. This series of self-portraits features various fragmented body parts of the artist in such a way that they resemble plant-like forms. Set to a stark black backdrop these images hark back to the history of still-life photography and the reverence of photographing flora and fauna specifically the succulent which was popularly photographed by artists such as Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. By representing herself as a plant-like form the artists challenges the conventions of photographing such subject matter and begs the question, "now that I am no longer a recognizable back figure am I a worthy subject?" 'Billie Said 'Strange Fruit' unapologetically confronts the viewer, demanding to be seen.

The title of the series is taken from a poem written by Abel Meeropol in the 1930s. The song was eventually popularized by artist Billie Holiday; in 1939 the song was named "song of the century" by Time magazine (Blair, 2012). Highly contested at the time of its release, the lyrics of this song allude to lynching, which was still very much a common occurrence at this time. Such atrocities of racism were not talked about openly; it took immense courage on the behalf of both Meeropol and Holiday to share these words of activism with millions of people around the world.

In similar ways, Shah hopes to pose this series as a form of critical resistance. Despite advances in race relations in North America, Shah feels that there are still significant systemic barriers in racial equality. Born in Edmonton, Alberta the artist eventually moved to Houston, Texas with her family where she resided for the next seven year. The artist eventually influenced her to be a more critical thinker and seek ways to be a catalyst for positive social change. Shah obtained her Bachelors Degree in Human Resources at York University before successfully obtaining her Bachelors in Fine Arts at OCAD University majoring in Photography and minoring in Integrated Media. Her practice often explores issues of racial identity and representation, colonial history, constructed and natural landscapes, personal and collective memory, and the ebb and flow of people in private and public spaces.


Sharene Shafie
2016 – OCAD University 
Criticism and Curatorial Practice

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© Sharene Shafie

© Sharene Shafie


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