Rarepeace is honored to bring you this exclusive interview with NYC based artist Shaira Chaer.
There are many ideas and thoughts that were implemented in our minds from a very early age. Most of the time, these preconceptions resulted in a series of disappointments and surprises in our adult life, as going through tough times but also evolving as our own individuals it’s something that no one could have ever prepared us for.
This factor is very much often implanted in women who were assigned female at birth. We are taught that being a female is limitative to a certain role in society, a weaker gender that sooner or later will have to learn how to navigate life as a less outspoken human being. At the same time, it is absolutely wrong and antiquated to believe that a man needs equal strength, power, masculinity and anything contrary to weakness.
Luckily, if it could be considered that way, our current generation is doing the greatest job in breaking all barriers and stigmas, fueled by past instructors and historically marginalized figures who led us to this very day by being the targets of many discussions.
Today we want to introduce you to one of these amazing individuals who are currently doing the great work of amplifying marginalized voices by educating and documenting this unique and necessary journey toward change.
Shaira Chaer is a Bronx-born full blown artist who can be described as a strategist, archivist, researcher, photographer at the most amazing punk and hardocre shows, writer and mom of the most beautiful baby girl named Juno. In the late 70’s, Sharia’s dad left the Dominican Republic to migrate to the USA and a decade later her mother migrated as well, both hopeful for a better future and opportunities.
It is safe to say that Shaira always knew the meaning of marginalization as she was born into it and was surrounded by the somewhat positive struggle that made her who she is today.
Through all these life experiences she was able to build and use her own voice for a cause greater than herself and we believe Shaira’a to be a truthful community leader.
As Louise Bourgeois 1990s sculpture “Maman” describes women as protectors, strong, maternal and powerful, it is yet rejecting the idea of the limitative concept of feminism as it is important to raise the status of women not by the limited born assigned gender.
In response to to a violent attack by the fascist 211 Crew against two anti-fascist organizers at Clockwork B, she created No Flowers for Yt Powers which we will explore in this in-depth interview.
Shaira is also part of the Diaspora Radical X, a digital archive of the Caribbean diaspora as arts are a powerful tool for the world’s most marginalized citizens to strive for economic justice, a peaceful democratic process and equality for the disenfranchised.
It is imperative to increase the society’s understanding of what constitutes a “marginalized community,” by extending the definition beyond traditionally disadvantaged groups in order to comprehensively grasp their community landscape.
With this interview, we hope to motivate you and inspire you in any possible way, enjoy our incredible talk with Shaira Chaer.
When did you start taking photos?
I’ve been shooting since the Polaroid released the iZone. I always had a disposable Kodak with me during school trips, and the trend followed me into high school and through college. I loved being the person to take photos of my friends; it was effortless and fun for me. I picked it back up seriously back in 2016 during my thesis semester. It was a hard time for me and photography felt like something that would bring me some peace.
How has your style changed over time?
I’ve experimented with editorial portrait photography, documentary photography, and concert photography. I felt really stifled and under pressure shooting portraiture and hated the dynamics of how I was treated. I wasn’t represented by an agency, I don’t have art degrees, and as someone with limited income, I would spend whatever I could to book, shoot, edit, style and market myself by myself. It was a lot and inevitably I fell out of love with it. If I had to describe what my photos look like now, they go from pastel-infused dreamscapes at raves to black and white shots with a lot of contrast at punk shows. I try to archive as much of the people, places and things that inform New York’s underground because so much of what I grew up with is gone now. That’s not going to change any time soon. I want to make sure that I document everything as someone experiencing it so that other people can experience it along with me.
What gear do you use?
Anything I can get my hands on really. For digital, I have a pretty handy Sony a6000 that I’ve been using for the last 4 years. On film, I have a Contax G1 that I really haven’t used that much since I bought it because of the pandemic – I work at home and don’t get to go out all that much. In a pinch, Ilford’s disposable HP5 camera is also really great especially if I’m at a heavier show and don’t want to risk my gear getting smashed up.
As an artist-mother, how do you balance your time with other commitments such as family, work and general admin?
What's balance? No but really, I don’t balance anything these days. Times of crisis are the times where I throw myself head first in my work and that’s kind of been my coping mechanism. I really think the last two years broke my brain, but being “on” all the time wasn’t ever sustainable for me no matter how hard I tried, and I seriously can’t afford to do that anymore. It’s time consuming. I just try to do as much as I can whenever I have the spoons to and hope for the best.
Tell us about your collective No Flowers Yt Powers:
No Flowers for Yt Powers has been around since 2017 and really was developed in response to a violent attack by by the fascist 211 Crew against two anti-fascist organizers at Clockwork Bar. My close homie Adrian (aka Hardcorebae) came up with the idea, and a group of us decided No Flowers should go to the last physical remnants of the city’s counterculture and create an environment of safety and self-defense by literally taking up space, especially against emerging white supremacist presence in bars and music venues across the five boroughs. If you remember, this was the same year ‘Unite the Right,’ the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia happened and I think people still don’t understand the ripple effect it had not just in the South but up North. Unite the Right emboldened Nazis to put stickers and flyers in Greenpoint, for example. Identity Evropa was using colleges like Mercy, NYU and Columbia to recruit people, and they showed up to counter protest any action against the Trump administration. It feels like so long ago, but the fact remains, the world we live in continues to be a place full of state-sanctioned and interpersonal racist violence. So No Flowers started out as a way for Black and brown punks in NYC to mob out to DIY, underground bars and venues to support and look out for one another, but it’s grown beyond that. In five years, we’ve put together events centering mutual aid, wellness and healing, poetry and the arts, and of course punk shows in Brooklyn and in the Bronx, which is my home borough. It was very DIY and we felt like it was a refreshing place for Black and brown punks to enjoy themselves where they didn’t need to worry about anything except having fun and enjoying music.
Which artists are you most influenced by?
Derrick Ridgers, Anita Corbin, Nan Goldin, Arlene Gottfried, Carrie Mae Weems, Sue Kwon, so many people.
What does ‘vulnerability’ mean to you?
I’m quoting Brené Brown here who said “vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage.” I think we talk about vulnerability as an experience one person has, but the act of vulnerability is dependent on the people we are surrounded by. We have to be willing to be seen and to see other people as complete human beings. We have to be rigorous and love rigorously so we can bring the best out of one another.
How do you make room for continuing to learn while educating?
My day job as a narrative strategist slash researcher means I have to read and digest all kinds of content from across the media ecosystem and the internet writ large to understand the political, social and cultural landscape we’re in. I’m also, I guess, an “expert” at disinformation and extremism research which means I find myself in the darkest parts of the internet. Basically I’m a nerd, I like nerdy shit, and I read a lot even when I’m trying not to.
Tell us about your work at Diaspora Radicalx:
Damn, I haven’t talked to anyone about this in a long time! I created Diaspora Radicalx in 2017, I think. It was supposed to house my political projects at a time where I was organizing and creating nonstop. I had already been curating feminist art shows in the Bronx for a couple of years beforehand, and it was the next natural step for me. Art was and continues to be a vehicle for organizing; we don’t have to have the same orientation to movement or speak the same language to be touched by art. That year, I put together a conference centered around intergenerational trauma and invited scholars, artists and activists like Veronica Agard and Diamond Wynn to engage with the concept. In this space, I wanted us to rethink historical trauma through epigenetics and public health, discuss the power of alchemy and healing across the African diaspora, struggling collectively with the goliath that is gentrification in the Bronx... It was ahead of its time and it opened a lot of doors for me to bring the work to more people. From here, I started to co-lead workshops with Veronica on intergenerational trauma and transformative justice from the classroom, to movement spaces, to the dance floor. Of course this work burned me out and I haven’t had the space or time to return to it since I’m often pulled in other directions. I started Diaspora Radicalx at an age where I needed to pour myself into something, and I think it’s served its purpose for now. That’s been a common theme for me over the years. Often our passion projects exist during a space and time where they’re needed, and can always re-emerge when and if the moment comes.
Where do you find inspiration?
This was hard for me to answer, but I like to take myself so I can visit art galleries and museums. This way I can recharge my batteries and learn about new artists and their practices, what’s resonating with people and what’s missing. I remember distinctly how institutions, companies, celebrities tried to capitalize on Black pain and suffering after the uprisings in 2020. All the empty promises about hiring more Black folks, listening to Black voices, investing in community, all that shit. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, I’m saying it was short-lived and went out the window once Biden won the presidency. Arts and cultural institutions tend to be white as hell, especially in New York City, but it felt good to see shows like Amoako Boafo and Larry Ossei-Mensah show “Winner Takes All,” which featured nine artists from across the globe grappling with concepts of identity and representation. It encapsulated self-love and community by artists from the African diaspora, and managed to remain true to the moment we’re living in. That show was really refreshing and it made me want to work with vibrant colors again.
What was the last book you've read?
I’m toxic and read multiple books at the same time, but the last book I read was “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Kimmerer’s words feel like a blanket.
Has there been a specific time that you recall not having your voice heard?
Oh, this happens all the time. When I was pregnant and freelancing as a writer, it was exceptionally hard to pitch pieces to publications without having them steal the pitch and reassign it to someone else. I love that for me. I’m really sensitive about my shit and pour so much of myself into the things I do that it feels like rejection every time this happens. So I just stopped putting myself in that situation.
What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get where you are today?
Being afraid to fail. To be real, I’m still afraid of failure, but I’ve reframed my view around it – it’s less of an enemy and more of an inevitable part of life or whatever. It’s okay to fail gracefully.
How can your work affect societal issues?
My parents migrated to New York in the late 1980s from the Dominican Republic to have a family. And their families believed in bartering goods, exchanging services, building multigenerational households so that the younger folks have older folks to be mentored and cared for, working with the land… these are my values, too. I know I can’t change the world’s problems alone, but if I can make an impact in small ways in the things I say or the work I create, that’s good enough for me. I just hope I can be a good ancestor and leave behind a legacy to those who come after me.
Written by Sarah Von H All photos shot by Shaira Chaer