Black ‘Image-Maker’ SHAN Wallace Selected For The NMWA’s “Women To Watch”

Grand re-opening day at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (Photo Courtesy of the National Museum of Women in the Arts)

By Omari Foote, Howard University News Service

The National Museum of Women in the Arts will debut its Women to Watch collection Apr. 14th.

Museum curator Orin Zahra said that she and senior curator Virginia Treanor began creating Women to Watch during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After witnessing what she called “stark political divisions” that year, they wanted to highlight the artist’s role in civic discourse. 

“The exhibition shows the imagination necessary to critically reflect on and complicate today’s realities as well as envision change,” she said. 

This exhibit will be one of the museum’s first collections since its first renovation in over a century, which was completed in October 2023. 

“The exhibition will encompass an extraordinary range of works, from painting, sculpture, installation, photography, video and new media,” said Zahra. These works address questions of climate change, the impact of technology on human life, migration and displacement, and race, class and gender inequities.”

The museum worked with several regional committees to nominate 3 to 5 artists from multiple international communities. 

SHAN Wallace was chosen to represent Baltimore. She said her piece in the exhibit tested her trust in herself. 

“I wanted to try something new, I wanted to say something new, I don’t think I have ever made anything like this,” she said. 

Wallace is a self-described “image-maker” with photography works featured in Vogue and designs handmade collages that depict life in Baltimore. She accredits the birth of her interest in imagery to her grandparents. 

“I spent a lot of time in my childhood in front of the television and a lot of it was based on what my grandparents liked,” she said. “That was like a hidden seed for my interest in images and moving images.”

Wallace said she took her first photo at six years old. She would take photos of her grandparents and said that is where she found a connection to photography. However, it wasn’t until she completed her collegiate basketball career that she revisited the art form. 

“I worked at Best Buy in the camera department, working there really helped me,” she said. “Then, I bought my camera and the rest is really history.”

Around October 2022, Wallace received an email saying that she was selected for the Women to Watch exhibit, to which her first thought was, “Okay, now I gotta make the piece”. Wallace decided to do something she’d never done: handmake a 70 by 100-inch collage for the exhibit.

“I never worked on a piece that large by hand,” she said. “A lot of experimenting, a lot of failure, a lot of anxiety, but I am really proud of the piece.”

Wallace describes working until the last possible moment, putting the final touches on the collage as the deliverer arrives at her studio. 

The collage itself is a combination of a lot of things, according to Wallace. 

“It’s a combination of the dreams that I have,” she said. “It’s a combination of Black Americans’ ways of speaking to the dead, ritual and deliverance.”

Wallace shares that in her dreams, she speaks to her ancestors, including her grandparents, and so this collage speaks to the importance of giving, offering and listening to the dead. 

“It feels really good to have this opportunity as a woman to watch in 2024 because I work really hard, and I really pushed myself to be in this exhibit.”

The Women to Watch exhibit will officially open April 14 and remain open until Aug. 11.