Shanique Emelife: The Village
after “Toil & Trouble”
bent at boil at burnish
then fixed futures or slid and slip past
and three is a cadence
a cavity leant
when hum beckons
so verdant follows
The figures in the pieces in Shanique Emelife’s The Village are never truly alone. Even when there is but a single human figure in one of these works, there is an awareness of how kin extends ever-outward to include the extolled and sheltering fauna, the muted blue sky, and the dusky brown soil. The village is capacious enough to account for all this life and more. In “Rocks & Soil,” a figure sits in the soil— a sizable plant flanking each of his sides. There is nothing lonely or alone. The presence of the plants is as potent as the presence of the figure.
In these works, the villagers often move in groups and they are among one another— there is a reflexive entanglement, a reverb and an acknowledgement that the village is not a mute and static object but that it comes alive in the intimacy that we let in. Proximal distance collapses in Emelife’s work and hands, legs and shoulders brush past one another and let closeness linger. The bent knees of two crouched spectres meet and touch. And, too, figures obscure one another, but that is also okay. The ‘I’ is not the radiant exercise, the village is instead foregrounded.
“Belonging” and “Hiding spot” remind us of the continual act. The gerund grammar shows a state that is not static or finished but one that is alive and fervent. All acts are threaded— what each villager does in toil, with kin and in the neighborhood is looped into the belonging. This goes for both the living kin and the spirit kin.
Rich living greens bear witness to the village and are the village in Emelife’s work. All these pieces are set in the outdoors, which points to where the center of the neighborhood rests. There is a deep and abiding serenity in these paintings. There is toil and work, too, but the tenderness of being together softens the toil. An insistent and/with lives in these paintings, which is ultimately another way to say ‘village’.
by Asiya Wadud
Shanique Emelife (b. 1993) Nassau, Bahamas, lives and works in Minneapolis, MN. Shanique Emelife otherwise known as “Chy”, is a queer Nigerian immigrant and self-taught painter. Her work often centers on a first-generation immigrant experience and tends to explore family, culture, identity, and home.