Akron Soul Train will host an opening reception for “United,” a show featuring the works of its artist-in-residence and Akron native, Shani Richards, Thursday, March 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Akron Soul Train Gallery, 191 King James Way, in downtown Akron.
As a trained metalsmith, Shani says she is fascinated with “how people use jewelry, body modifications, shoes and clothing to convey their race, social status, religious affiliation, sexual orientation and class.”
As an undergrad at the University of Akron, Richards created a body of work inspired by the bling jewelry worn by those in the hip-hop industry. She created large, heavy necklaces using derogatory language to represent the historic burden many have had to bear from words and labels, particularly in the black community. Crafting these racial slurs into shiny jewelry reflected the commercialization of black people, which is rooted in slavery.
For her residency, she further examines the power of racial slurs and expands her research to include sexual orientation and gender pronouns. “United” is an exhibit of her work, and the art relies on audience participation and conversation. Hanging a label from one’s neck can be an empowering process, as the word can become neutralized by being presented as a shiny necklace. Gallery visitors are encouraged to choose a pendant and take selfies for social media in order to open up dialogue outside of the gallery.
As part of an Akron Soul Train residency, artists are asked to develop a community engagement component. Shani will host a workshop in metal stamping techniques at the Akron Soul Train Gallery on Saturday, March 14, from 2 to 4 p.m.
“United” runs from March 4 through 28. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.