Imagine That! Fun facts about Shani Peters’ “The Crown Futures”
Traditionally reserved for monarchs, crowns are subverted in the Museum’s newest exhibition, The Crown Futures. Artist Shani Peters, in collaboration with children, has created a site-specific installation meant to celebrate concepts of self-determination. Here, those who wear the crowns are not “royalty” but everyday youth empowered by their own sense of self-worth and commitment to community building. We chatted with Peters and discovered how the crowns of Miss America and Basquiat inspired the work, the process of working with nearly 30 children (ages 5-13), the unbelievable amount of paper it took to construct the installation and more. Imagine that!
Combine Kwanzaa, Stevie Wonder and Nefertiti’s crown and voila
“This project began as I was thinking about childhood memories. My parents celebrate Kwanzaa and self-determination is a principle. Plus there is a Gary Byrd song produced by Stevie Wonder called “The Crown.” The lyrics talk about the idea that we can all have a crown and wear it proudly. It’s not about one person ruling over another. When I began researching crowns I was inspired by the crowns of Nefertiti from Egypt, Queen Nzinga of Ndongo (pre-colonial Angola), Miss America and Basquiat’s crown that appeared in many of his works.”
It takes a whole (children’s) village to raise an installation
“We began this project in May and completed it in early July. During that time we had seven two-hour workshops with about 28 students and five we worked with more intensely. The students designed their own crowns using gold paper and materials like buttons, fabric and beads from places such as dollar stores and beauty supply areas. Then I took pictures of them and extracted the actual design the students created so that they could be laser cut.”
400 crowns and 500 feet of paper later
“There are a little over 400 crowns in the show. We used at least 500 feet of really large archival acid-free gold paper. The crowns are assembled with tabs and gold painted staples. When the crowns are first hung they look pristine like they’re made of metal or plastic. But over time they become very delicate and you can tell it’s paper.”
The children really are our (crown) future
“In the workshops we talked about the history of crowns and that led us to talk about slavery, racial inequality and the concept of power. I am regularly pleasantly surprised with the ability of young people to talk about difficult subjects. These kids know what’s going on. I hope we planted seeds in the minds of students so they continue these thoughts as they grow into adults.”
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]
All Photos by Michael Palma Mir.