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You Are Not Alone


A conversation between Marsha Pearce and Sheena Rose


Artist Sheena Rose at home in Barbados. Image courtesy the artist.


Marsha Pearce: Hello Sheena, how are you doing? From your social media posts, you seem to be oscillating between moments of anxiety and periods of infectious courage. You are certainly not afraid to share when you are crying, and you have been a source of inspiration with your morning reminders to “Rise and shine.”

Sheena Rose: Hi Marsha, I am pretty okay. For the past week, I was really sick, and my parents had to take care of me. I find my anxiety has cooled down a bit, but I guess I am quietly worrying about how I am going to move forward since COVID-19 came around. I am still working every day. If not working, I am reading, researching, experimenting, meditating, gardening and doing yoga. I feel we are all going through some anxiety or fear. I just want to say to the world: “You are not alone,” and put these feelings into my art.

I have also been working through other feelings, especially knowing that I was diagnosed with lupus. I am okay, knowing I have lupus, but the fact that I cannot eat a range of foods can get frustrating, because some foods may agitate the lupus and cause flare ups. There are also some challenges as an artist: trying to find new ways to promote the work and also to sell the work in these difficult times.

Sheena Rose’s Festal, 2020. 8×12 inches, mixed media on watercolour paper. Image courtesy the artist.

You’ve remained very prolific during this time – producing drawings that respond to this pandemic context and, in many ways, constructing your own unconventional world while the norms and conventions of our existence morph around us. What can you tell me about your pieces “Festal,” “Delphic” and “Spread the Love Couple”?

I find that the pandemic is really influencing my work, or adding more content to the work. For a while now, I wanted to find a way to describe this strange land we are living in and the pandemic is revealing so much strangeness in our behaviour and in our thinking. This situation is feeding my work and I am like: “Yes!” I am also trying to show my diagnosis too, as a landscape. I want to show how lupus moves in my body and how it feels, as though my body is a landscape or a world itself.

Regarding “Festal,” I just finished a book called Wicked written by Gregory Maguire. This book is about the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. The writer creates a background story and depth for the witch but also adds more information about the other characters and the space itself: the politics, the landscape, the culture, instead of just the yellow brick road that you see Dorothy and her other three colleagues walking on. You get a better understanding and background of this fictional space. So while I am creating and developing a world – which I call This Strange Land – I have the influence of the Wizard of Oz in the back of my head and it is slowly entering my work. Also, during the middle of the month of April, Barbados announced the cancellation of Crop Over, our carnival, and I could feel the sadness and disappointment from the island. This news also influences the drawing and I wanted to see how I can show this festival in This Strange Land. I thought of African masks, kite patterns and a fun but weird feeling of these four figures walking along their merry way. Honestly, I have gotten bored of Crop Over. It has lost its true feeling and has become very commercialised. I wanted to find that depth to it again, in the drawing.

Sheena Rose’s Spread the Love Couple #1, 2020. 5.5×8.5 inches, pen and ink on acid-free paper. Image courtesy the artist.

“Delphic” was also inspired and influenced by the same book Wicked. I wanted to create a space with a field and have signs that felt like a language I was building or a warning sign of the current situation we are living in with COVID-19. I felt like screaming, therefore I let the figure’s mouth open too. She is screaming and her hair is moving with the vibrations of the scream.

For “Spread the Love Couple” I was thinking of the new rules/laws in place due to COVID-19: to keep a distance of 6 feet. I thought about how people are intimate, but I also wanted to show the LGBTQ side rather than just men and women loving each other. I wanted to show that there are also gay couples and I wanted to play with the image of intimacy between women, and between men too. I didn’t want to go so much in-depth, but to see a different angle rather than drawing heterosexual relationships all the time.


Sheena Rose’s Delphic, 2020. 9×12 inches, pen and ink on acid-free paper. Image courtesy the artist.

You shared on Instagram that you will be using this Covid-19 lockdown time to play but you hastened to add that you are also serious. What do you mean? Please explain.

When I say play, I mean to experiment with the work and discover some new techniques but I also want to show the seriousness of the research and building a language in the work. I want to take advantage of making mistakes, to explore and to experiment with different materials/media during this time. I am doing some heavy research on scientific words and terms, animals, medicine, minerals, machinery to help develop the infrastructure of This Strange Land.

I know you do a lot of reading as part of your art making process. What are you reading these days?

Yes, I am really pushing myself a lot to read. I listen to audio books while I am drawing and I have also been reading books too, while I am home. I am a slow reader but I am doing my best to finish a book every month. So far, I have finished The 48 Laws of Power written by Robert Greene, Gifted Hands a memoir by Dr. Ben Carson, Wicked, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Miguel Street written by V.S. Naipaul and The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold. Now, I am reading Bad Feminist, written by Roxanne Gay.

You have been hosting live conversations about how art can contribute during this global health challenge. What can art do?

Yes, prior to COVID-19, I used Facebook Live to loudly express how I feel about situations that seemed ridiculous to me – I wasn’t afraid to share my thoughts. Now, in this strange time we are in, I want to show a more useful way of using social media platforms. One of the questions I have been asking in my live conversations is: “How can we move forward in the art world?” Since COVID-19, the world has been on standby, therefore the art world is on standby. A lot of projects have been affected, postponed or cancelled. I know, at this moment, we are relying on the essential workers but I want to address the idea that art is very important as well. Artists can contribute so much to the space. We are not just here for decoration. We are helping people cope through this time – to reflect, to express and to see how we can restructure and move into this new normal.


Stay connected with Sheena Rose:

Instagram: @sheenaroseinc


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