“The Crown Futures” Installation by Shani Peters at Sugar Hill Children's Museum

In the workshops we talked about the history of crowns and that led us to talk about slavery, racial inequality, and the concept of power. I am regularly pleasantly surprised with the ability of young people to talk about different subjects. These kids know what's going on. I hope we planted seeds in the minds of students so they continue these thoughts as they grown into adults.

-Shani Peters

What do Miss America, Jean-Michele Basquiat, Stevie Wonder, and Nefertiti all have in common? Ok, try adding Kwanzaa to the list and see if you can get a little closer to a common answer. Naturally, a host of good music, high crowns, and Black pride should begin to flood your memory bank, but for the artist, Shani Peters these familiar names proved more than just childhood memories.

Peters, a multidisciplinary New York-based artist decided to expand on her series The Crown which is an exhibit and series of projects that have evolved over the last several years. Her latest installation "The Crown Futures" at Sugar Hill Children's Museum celebrates the concepts of self-determination through the young eyes of youth ages 5-13 years old. Peters artistic content revolves around media culture, social justice, cultural record keeping and community building so this installation was near and dear to her heart as she reflected on her own childhood for inspiration and healing. Going back to those childhood memories resonates deeply with Peters thanks to her father who was a Black History professor who managed to keep her interest in Black history with the teachings of music, literature, and theater. Her inspirations began with the memories of family Kwanzaa celebrations and its 7 principles, particularly, self- determination. Peters reveals that it was the principle Kujichagulia aka Self-Determination that she struggled the most with to maintain and experience. Like her father who wanted to do so much more than teach Black History but instead create narratives around the lives of those affected most within history, Peters included the everyday children around her to examine, celebrate, and stimulate personal growth for viewers of all ages.

Her interactive workshops didn't just include the creating of the crowns, but also led to productive discussions about race, power, and civil rights. 500 feet of gold paper and 400 crowns later Peters would combine her childhood memories of Kwanzaa, Stevie Wonder's song "The Crown" her sightings of famous crowns like Nefertiti, Miss America, and Basquiat , and her student's creations into a breathtaking installation. An installation that transcends tradition, time, culture, politics, and social existence that we all can relate to. As Peters uses her work to facilitate healing, freedom, self-reflection for Black Americans in particular, you can not ignore the universal message of love, opportunity, and respect for all.

Check out Peters artist statement from earlier works of the Crown Project

The African’s experience in the Americas has been grounded in brutality and trauma. Through eras of forced enslavement, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, both clearly stated and veiled every-day racism, and now the most commonly perceived police abuse of power, Black people have exercised unimaginable degrees of determination to simply survive and persevere. The work in this exhibition is the most recent exploration in the theme of imagining crowns as symbols for Self-Determination and the complexity of the experience of the African people following the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade that my series The Crown has reflected on for the past few years. These new works begin to explore what Self-Determination means specifically for Black Americans situating both historical and contemporary images of Black Americans engaged in focused political protest within the visual narrative of The Crown project. James Baldwin famously stated, “Our crown has already been bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear it.”  These works illustrate the price that was and continues to be paid.

All Photos were capture by Michael Palma