Womxn of Color Initiative to Address Strategies for Surviving Racism

The Womxn of Color Initiative (WOCI), an effort to organize events for women of color and their allies at Michigan State University and in the greater Lansing community, is bringing MSU alumna Shani Peters back to campus during the month of March as an artist-in-residence to work on a collaborative arts practice project – Sustain: A Demonstration/Modeling Survival and Self Care Tactics as Public Service – that will focus on strategies for surviving racism in America.

A multidisciplinary New York City-based artist, Peters, who is originally from Lansing, received a B.A. in Communication in 2002 from Michigan State University and an M.F.A. in 2009 from the City College of New York.

Her work encompasses community building, activism histories, the subversion of popular media, and the creation of accessible imaginative experiences. She seeks to create environments and experiences that offer respite from painful realities – opportunities for collective power, learning, peace, and wonderment.

headshot of woman in grey sweater w/ hair in a bun and gold hoop earrings
Shani Peters

“Over the past few years, my attention has been focused on the work Black people do to self-determine composure, sanity, and internal peace in the face of the ongoing trauma of racism in America,” Peters said. “Considering cycles of activism and nature, the needs for both protest and soft space to rest, as well as the relationship between destruction and serene beauty, these explorations have been a study in tension and balance.”

Through this work, Peters welcomes viewers of her prints, collages, installations, and videos to involve themselves with the work, engaging them in the politics of our shared society while paying increasing attention to our individual capacities to carry its weight.

Collaborative Arts Practice Project at MSU

While at MSU, Peters plans to extend this direction of her practice.

“I hope to engage Black and people of color, and especially women of color on campus, in conversations around these topics and to invite them to participate in a new series of photographic and text-based collages I will produce,” Peters said.

Over the past few years, my attention has been focused on the work Black people do to self-determine composure, sanity, and internal peace in the face of the ongoing trauma of racism in America.

Drawing on her experience as an educator and public engagement artist/organizer, Peters will hold one-on-one and group dialogue sessions and ask participants to describe personal strategies for maintaining well-being in the face of injustice. She then will work with participants to create images that illustrate these strategies, some of which will be integrated into collage compositions along with words from the discussions. 

Peters said she hopes this work will "beautifully display useful strategies for surviving racism in America” with the goal of sharing it publicly as a form of artistic public service.

The Crown Project

Peters was Bucknell University’s first Nesbitt Artist in Residence. The Nesbitt Artist Residency Program, in partnership with Bucknell University Department of Art and Art History as well as the Samek Art Museum, provides time, space, and exhibition opportunity to visual artists working in any media.

During her residency at Bucknell, which took place March 21-April 21, 2016, she exhibited The Crown project, an interdisciplinary public engagement project in which she explores the theme of imagining crowns as symbols for self-determination and the complexity of the experience of the African people following the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. The Crown exhibit has been displayed at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit; the University of Michigan; Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas; and N'jelele Art Space in Harare, Zimbabwe.

image of a woman with hair in bun talking to a mother and her children
Shani Peters (right) at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, one of the places where "The Crown" project has been exhibited.

Womxn of Color Initiative

The MSU Womxn of Color Initiative aims to create spaces for students to be in conversation with each other and engage with women of color faculty, guest speakers, staff, and community members. 

The speaker series, artist-in-residence program, and yoga/wellness workshops offer cross-disciplinary and open spaces for dialogue that address issues of representation, graduation, and retention at the undergraduate and graduate level while offering community building opportunities for junior and senior faculty and staff at MSU. The public talks are open to the Michigan State University and the larger East Lansing/Lansing community and are recorded to create a digital archive and to provide access to an even larger audience.

The Womxn of Color Initiative is organized by Professors Yomaira Figueroa, Estrella Torrez, Tamara Butler, Delia Fernandez, Maribel Santiago, and Leslie Gonzales. The undergraduate and graduate coordinators for the 2017-2018 events are Breanna Escamilla and Rebecca Fussell. The initiative is supported by the College of Arts & Letters, Department of English, Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, and Center for Gender in Global Contexts.