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Hanes visiting artist shares vibrant vision of Black queerness

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Devan Shimoyama, multimedia artist, speaks at the Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture Series on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. "That's something I want to do in my work - is to create images of and imagine something a little bit brighter," Shimoyama said during his talk last Thursday.

For Philadelphia-born multimedia artist Devan Shimoyama, art is both story and exploration. 

Shimoyama’s larger-than-life works of Black figures are awash in vibrant color. They often feature glimmering eyes made from costume jewelry, swaths of glitter and layers of texture. 

“That’s something I want to do in my work — is to create images of and imagine something a little bit brighter,” Shimoyama said.

Last Thursday, Shimoyama spoke about his work in the Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture Series.

The series brings established and emerging contemporary artists to campus several times each semester.

According to event organizer and assistant art professor Martín Wannam, the lectures feature artists from a broad range of geographies and mediums and provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to learn more about different paths of creating art.

“I think it’s important to understand different artists and what they’re doing, and for what, and why and where they’re coming from as a way to expand our knowledge and understanding of art making and culture itself because I think that art is basically a production of culture as well,” Wannam said. 

Shimoyama’s art explores worlds — of queerness, of the Baptist Black women who raised him, of childhood cartoons and early 2000s rhythm and blues — that simultaneously collide and harmoniously coexist. In fact, revealing that harmony is a key aspect of Shimoyama’s work. 

“Mighty Mighty: The Barbershop Project,” one of Shimoyama’s recent works, navigates the masculinity of a Black barbershop from a queer perspective. 

In the mobile art exhibit in Washington, D.C., a functional barbershop was adorned with Shimoyama’s paintings, rhinestone-studded reinterpretations of hairstyle guides and lavishly bedazzled furniture. 

LGBTQ+ hairstylists of color also provided free haircuts for children while engaging in conversations about the artwork with community members.

In the lecture, Shimoyama described the project as aestheticizing an everyday environment to produce universal harmony.

“It was really nice to see his dedication to Black queer narrative,” Leanna Fore, a junior art student and lecture attendee, said.  "We don't see a lot of that, especially in spaces where it's primarily not a lot of people of color — I feel like it’s hard."

“Hoodie,” a long-running art series by Shimoyama, honors the lives of Black children who were victims of police brutality. 

In the series, Shimoyama takes inspiration from the DIY craft traditions of spontaneous memorials, covering hoodies with flowers and rhinestones, he said. 

“Current events certainly affect all of my work,” Shimoyama said. “During the rise of Black Lives Matter, during Trump's presidency — that certainly had a direct impact on the type of work that I was making.” 

Besides current events, interpersonal relationships with family, friends and community members also influence his art, he said.

Shimoyama thinks about his materials — beads, sequins, rhinestones, glitter, clothes and costume jewelry — in reference to drag culture and the safety that queer spaces, like drag performances, create, he said. The costume jewelry also references accessories worn by the Black women at Shimoyama’s childhood church.

“I felt very safe around them, and they allowed me to be myself authentically and were very nurturing and kind and warm,” he said. “And so for me, it’s kind of a bringing, a merging together of those two things which, maybe for a lot of people, feel at odds with each other — queerness being intersected with some sort of religious space and Christianity. But for me, it feels a lot like home.”

Shimoyama said in the lecture that the mythic link between queerness and paganism led him to explore the occult in his series “Tarot.”

In the set of paintings, he reinterprets the Major Arcana, or named cards, of tarot decks through his own perspective. He and his family members stand in for figures like The Empress and The Popess. Through the series, he mythologized the transformations of his own life and paid homage to his family and childhood. 

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The emotional impact of Shimoyama’s work, as well as its vivid, textural detail, is augmented by its scale. 

“I’ve never been interested in painting something that is smaller than life-size,” he said in the lecture. “To me, it’s just a really impactful thing to experience in person, to be confronted with a larger-than-life Black person, in your face, that’s looking at you — is a very significant experience, I think.”

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com