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Finding Shantell Martin

Getting inside Shantell Martin’s studio at Mana Contemporary, in Jersey City, New York, can be confused with entering a dreamlike space. White walls enclose a wide open space hosting a white desk in its centre, with a wide white monitor on top. If Shantell is around, then her little dog Blanche is too (who is, obviously, candid white) “barking but not biting”, as Shantell would say

Human of Light Shantell Martin
Art Director Enrico Magistro
Photography Luca Caizzi
Text Alessandro De Agostini
Special map drawing Shantell Martin
Special thanks to Saraghina, Tom Tom Magazine, Celsious Laundry

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All those white surfaces (all but Blanche’s) are somehow covered with a small or big trace of Shantell passage: either thin or thick black lines, creating a seemingly chaotic path, evolving in odd figures, faces, and words.

Before getting to her studio though, a quite long journey has been made. This has nothing to do with the 9 hours needed to cross the ocean, but rather to the places visited and people encountered before actually meeting Shantell.

There is one common answer received when people were reached out in this journey: “I would do anything for Shantell”.

Having the chance to getting to know someone starting from how she is seen by her friends is a unique opportunity indeed. Everybody is holding inside a piece of her, a trace of that deep and pure relationship, as if she marked them as she does in her art pieces.

Some people might say that this happens whenever friendship is involved, but once you get to know which is Shantell’s biggest mantra, things may vary in perspective: say yes to yes, and say no to no.

To further explain, the principle is as easy to state as difficult to pursue: anybody should say yes to whatever feels like something worth saying so. This leads to a pure and authentic way of living, which is reflected inside her human relationships and that can be definitely perceived and touched.

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We met Mindy at her music studio, a place she shares with few musicians friends, on the upper floor of the headquarter of her own magazine, called Tom Tom, featuring stories of drummers just like her. She is fierce and kind, with a touch of wildness. She proudly wears a pair of shoes designed and marked by Shantell herself, as to say “Look, I know her, I like her, and I am her friend.”

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The appointment with Sade was instead settled for dinner, at Saraghina, an Italian restaurant built on black wood walls, where Shantell left her mark. All its walls are covered with white lines and words, making Saraghina stand out in a plane and occasionally flat neighbourhood. Sade describes herself as a creator, a connector, and a storyteller, but what came out first is that she was yet another person deeply connected to Shantell.

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Before Shantell, her friends came, unveiling a wide net of connections, making clear how great her power to leave a mark on others is, metaphorically and literally, with little black tattoos left on their skin.

As it should be clear by now, Shantell draws on almost any available surface, or at least any surface that she feels like drawing onto. Walls, desks, computers, and lamps, as her very own two May Day by Konstantin Grcic, marked with her unmistakable style.

Her artistic spontaneous approach drives to another interesting consideration: no error is truly an error. She says: “If playing the keyboard I hit a bad tone, what I need to do is just keeping on hitting that very tone, again and again, till it is not an error anymore”.

Somehow, you have to go with the flow, improvising over a studied pattern, crafting every time a unique piece, which should not be intended as an art piece, as it could be anything, for instance, just a special day spent with friends.

“Gimme two words.” she said, and a moment later she was playing on her keyboard, and singing, making all that energy of hers shine out in the studio.

Sun I see you, Sun I feel you, Sun I know you, Sun I touch you. Porcupine, PorcuTime. Time too much and time too less, and time to figure out why we wanna be too much less, as the porcupine pokes me in the spine, pokes me in my mind. Porcupine pokes me in the spine; it makes me think about why we are here, it makes me think about time and time and time.

The fun part is that this article has been written as Shantell Martin teaches to: going with the flow.

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Human of Light Shantell Martin
Art Director Enrico Magistro
Photography Luca Caizzi
Text Alessandro De Agostini
Special map drawing Shantell Martin
Special thanks to Saraghina, Tom Tom Magazine, Celsious Laundry