So here we are.
I’m at home, as I’m sure many of you are, too.
And we’ve all begun to understand
how our relationship with ourselves,
with each other
and the spaces we exist in
can deeply impact our sense of identity and purpose.
So much has dramatically changed.
There’s a sense of distance now unlike ever before.
But what if I told you
that you could find a way from your heart to your hand
to reconnect again,
and that through this practice and embracing this course,
I could help you to recalibrate your mind
so that you could explore this new reality with joy,
让你带着喜悦 热情 想象和希望
enthusiasm, imagination and hope?
And all it would take is a simple pen
To get you there,
let’s go back to the beginning.
As a kid growing up in a council estate in Southeast London,
I was an outsider.
I’m the oldest of six kids,
and all of my siblings look very English:
blond hair, blue eyes, very cute.
And then there was me:
half Nigerian, brown, with an Afro.
半尼日利亚血统 棕色皮肤 非洲卷发
So what happens when you look different
and you feel different,
and in many ways, start to think differently
from everyone and everything around you?
How do you find your way out of a dark, racist, homophobic
你如何找到一条走出黑暗 种族歧视 恐惧同性恋
and very lonely place?
This is where the pen comes in.
I started to draw.
So as you can see, I’ve got this pen,
and it knows where it’s going.
And I’ve learned very well how to follow it.
And the first thing I did is I followed this line,
and I drew myself out of a culture
that was only telling me what I couldn’t do.
I trusted my pen,
and it led me to Central Saint Martin’s,
a very fancy art school in London,
where I graduated top of my year.
However, I soon realized there wasn’t a place for me in London,
because whether you wish to believe it or not,
England is still a country
that is rooted and functions within the class system.
And as a young, black, gay female artist from a working-class family,
I didn’t stand a chance.
So I left London and I moved to Japan,
where I didn’t experience people asking me where I was really from.
I was just another gaijin,
which, ironically, means “outsider.”
I was immersed in a culture that honors both making and craft,
where people perfect their craft over generations.
It’s a culture that masters both time and space,
so that artists can truly create with freedom.
And what I discovered was a place I wasn’t angry with.
Tokyo hadn’t wronged me in any way.
I could no longer create with anger or out of pain.
I had to bravely allow myself to create from a different place.
And what I found is this incredible tool
transcended a line on paper.
I found this thing
that connected my head to my heart
and my hand to everything.
I could see the world in new ways.
I found connections in corners
and the solutions to problems I never knew existed.
It’s like the world with all its positive and negative spaces
could now be seen.
And just by seeing it,
there was no longer any fear.
It’s like my pen was a flashlight,
and the unknown was still there,
but it wasn’t scary.
After five years of living in Japan and focusing on my craft,
I felt like I needed a new challenge.
So I moved to New York,
because that’s what you do as an artist, right?
You move to the greatest city in the world
that has the ability
to make you feel completely and utterly invisible.
This is when I began to truly ask myself,
“Who are you?”
I would wake up in the morning, and before I began my day,
I would meditate on this.
And with this question in mind,
I kept drawing.
I followed the line.
I let it lead the way.
The process of picking up a pen,
something everyone has access to,
the act of giving myself permission to let go
of all thoughts, all fears, insecurities —
所有的想法 所有的恐惧 不安——
anything that would get in the way
of allowing myself to be completely me —
that became my way of experiencing freedom.
When I got to New York,
I didn’t want to play by the rules of the art world.
I continued my practice as an outsider.
I kept drawing.
Curiosity became the ink for my pen,
and I continued to dive deeper.
Over time, I began to create a bold, confident space for myself,
a space that was all my own.
Initially, it was just my bedroom.
But that bedroom ended up in “The New York Times,”
and suddenly, I was being seen and known
for this world I had created.
I’ve created and collaborated with some of the most unique artists,
institutions and spaces,
from the screens of Times Square,
to the New York City Ballet for their incredible artist series,
where I interviewed a number of dancers.
Their stories and words became the foundation
of over 30 drawings and artworks,
which took over the promenade walls,
windows and floors.
For a long time,
I wanted to create a space for contemplation and poetry.
And in 2019,
I was given the opportunity to do just that
by the Trust of Governor’s Island.
They provided me with the perfect “canvas”
in the form of a former military chapel.
Meet “The May Room.”
With drawings on the exterior inspired by the history of the island,
you walk inside, you take your shoes off,
and there’s a drawing on the floor in the form of a maze
that brings you back to you.
It’s an invitation to become calm.
And this allows you to see phrases on the wall.
“May you be wise.”
“May you sleep soundly at night.”
“May we save trees.”
“May you,” “may you,” “may we.”
“愿你” “愿你们” “愿我们”
And these phrases seem like they’re rising from you
or falling into you.
I’ve let my lines become much like a language,
a language that has unfolded much like life.
And when there has been silence,
I’ve sought connection through conversation,
asking questions to push through the discomfort.
Drawing has taught me how to create my own rules.
It has taught me to open my eyes to see not only what is,
but what can be.
And where there are broken systems,
we can create new ones that actually function and benefit all,
instead of just a select few.
Drawing has taught me how to fully engage with the world.
And what I’ve come to realize through this language of lines
is not the importance of being seen,
but rather the gift of seeing that we give to others
and how true freedom is the ability to see.
And I don’t mean that literally,
because sight is only one way in which one can see.
But what I mean is to experience the world in its entirety,
maybe even more so during the most challenging moments
like the one we face today.
I’m Shantell Martin.
And I invite you to pick up a pen
and see where it takes you.
So here we are.