Serpents and Tea / Eliesha Grant

When faced with the opportunity to be a part of Jamaica Flux: Workspaces & Windows 2016 and while preparing for her solo show in Maine this fall, Shervone Neckles thought, “How can I bring people in these communities together?” She wanted to have an “in” to get to know new communities when she travels for shows and talks about her work as a visiting artist.

The herbs and spices she infused in her hand-sewn velvet embroidery works and the teas made with them were her way ‘in.” By researching the places she will be visiting and finding out about common issues the people of these places have, she intends to have special herbs and spices to make tea to connect with strangers. Wellness is a big part of her practice. She wants to share her knowledge with strangers who may not look at art. She draws people in by offering something good for their bodies, minds, and spirits. This immediately appealed to me because I am in recovery and use a lot of natural supplements and herbs to balance my system. I like to have a balance of Western, Eastern, and ancient ways of healing incorporated into my daily life. These impact my art and my spiritual connection to the universe and help me connect with my community as well.

While researching ancient female power figures in Greek, Zumani, West African, and Nigerian mythology as well as the roots of her Grenadian ancestors, Neckles learned a lot about the herbs they used for health and wellness. In her work there is a lush richness. Female forms holding snakes embroidered on velvet with the roots and herbs steeping. The herbs and spices are indigenous to certain areas where she is travelling, they address the problems of that area, and are archival.

The artist is currently working on her first animation, Give and Take. “I am specifically interested in the power figures’ function in their communities, considering how they are made and where they are placed in a community.” She has had a viewing of Give and Take, even though it is still in progress and she has not finalized the music for it. It featured the female form, fertility, nurturing offspring, and slaughtering as offering – hence the Give and Take title. You see a snake in many of her works, which she explained is positive in these cultures. The snake was a creature or symbol that was able to travel from above and below, dead and undead. The ancient matriarchal societies revered the snake and used it to communicate with the “other side.” Not until Patriarchy came about 2,000 years ago was the snake criminalized.

Neckles talks about how she likes to have people come see her in process and visit her studio as things are being made – that the process and the practice are what she loves most about making art. By the time her work is shown, she is ready for the next project. Back in April, Queens Council on the Arts invited her to talk about her process of getting ready for a solo show this coming fall and Jamaica Flux in the spring. It gave her an opportunity to do a dry run of her upcoming talks and shows, and the practice helped her to become more familiar with her research, to the point where it is flowing out of her.

Eliesha Grant