Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Q&A with Sharna Jackson




Sharna Jackson is the author of the new middle grade book Black Artists Shaping the World. Her other books include Faith Ringgold: Narrating the World in Pattern and Color. She was born and raised in the UK, and now lives in the Netherlands.


Q: What inspired you to write Black Artists Shaping the World, and how did you choose the artists to include?


A: The idea of publishing a book celebrating Black contemporary artists had been brewing for a few years. I, with the support of Anna Ridley and Roger Thorpe at Thames and Hudson, had been keen to showcase a selection of artists creating exciting and important work today; to introduce them to young people with the hope of inspiring them, while also giving the artists the recognition they deserve.


Some of the artists in the book are famous, some are emerging, but all of them make us look again, and think again, about both art and life. 


Dr Zoé Whitley, an inspirational, international curator and artistic director, collaborated on this book with me. Zoé was absolutely instrumental in informing the selection of artists, she brought both kindness and an encyclopedic knowledge of art and artists to the book.


It was incredibly difficult to select just 26 artists for the book. We wanted to make sure we had diverse representation – artists from across the world, artists of different genders and of course we thought about their practices – photography, painting, performance, ceramics, textiles, and installations, and everything in between. 


From there, we selected the very best artists working with those art forms. 


Q: How did you choose the examples of their work to include in the book?


A: Some work was an absolute must-have – Faith Ringgold's Tar Beach and Amy Sherald's First Lady Michelle Obama for example. With other artists, I pored over images of their work, watched interviews and profiles with them, then drew up shortlists of their work, considering how they would work with the other artworks in the book, whether we could get find high-resolution images so the work would shine in print, and of course, whether I could write the words that would do their work justice. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “In its fullest life, this book should travel much further than a niche museum gift shop offering into classrooms and community spaces filled with Black youth as a platform for, and a celebration of, Black artistic innovation.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: I was delighted by the starred Kirkus review! I'm still smiling. The assessment is my exact wish for Black Artists Shaping the World – that readers find it an accessible, inspirational, and celebratory book. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: Black Artists Shaping the World, I hope, is an inspirational starting point for all students, teachers, parents, and caregivers to find out more about the art and artists in the book.


If readers are struck by the work between the pages, I suggest visiting the artists' official websites and, where appropriate, looking at their social media to see what they are currently working on and what might be coming in the future.


I hope it encourages creators, of all ages, to start their own creative journeys, in whatever form feels best for them.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a few projects at the moment! I created a book about the life and works of Faith Ringgold with illustrator Andrea Pippins for The Met Museum – that's published on Nov. 30. I'm contributing to a game, gearing up to the release of my next MG, The Good Turn, next May, while working on a first draft for a 2023 MG title.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I live on a ship in the Netherlands. In 2024, I hope to be releasing an MG title set in Harlem, which I'm excitedly researching now. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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