Vegas artist explores black experiences through portraiture

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LAS VEGAS (KTNV) – Q’shaundra James is a storyteller.

“I love graphic novels and comics. I’m a DC fan, ”said James, who is in the early stages of writing and illustrating his own graphic novel.

She also writes short stories. “I write science fiction even though I’m not a scientist. So I do a lot of research for this. It’s also philosophical. “

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Although James is a writer, some of the most important stories she has to tell don’t involve writing at all.

James is an award-winning artist who uses her portraits to start conversations.

Q’shaundra James

Work by Q’shaundra James. (Source: Q’shaundra James)

‘The Veil’ in his work

“I want people to realize that there is no such thing as a monolithic way of being Black, that there is a multitude of ways to express this type of culture,” she said.

“Also, it’s not weird for a black artist to paint black people because I get this question a lot.”

James grew up in Las Vegas and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in English and Fine Arts from UNLV. It was there that it was presented to WEB Du Bois.

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“I took a black literature class and discovered his essay ‘The Souls of Black Folk’,” James said. In his essay, the sociologist, historian and civil rights activist speaks of the “Veil”.

“Du Bois describes ‘the Veil’ as being a piece of cloth that every African American is born with,” she explained, “and it distorts the image of themselves when they look at each other in the mirror and their image for the spectators. “

It is a concept that James explores in his paintings. Often you will see a prominent veil in the background. She says she gives clarity to her subjects, removing the tissue from their eyes.

“What he is saying is that the black individual is endowed with sight and dual consciousness and can see what others cannot,” she said.

Objects as metaphors

James also enjoys painting people holding objects. Take the painting of his niece, Skyler, below.

In the painting, Skyler is holding a “Sailer Moon” rod. As James explains, in the manga series, when Usagi, or Sailer Moon, discovers the wand, it becomes powerful.

“She finds out that she is a princess,” said James.

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Q’shaundra James

Work by Q’shaundra James. (Source: Q’shaundra James)

For children in school, James points out that African American history usually begins with slavery.

“It makes people believe that there was nothing before this,” she said. “As a black student you have to make your own discovery, find out that we have royalty, we have doctors, we have scientists, we have artists, a long line.”

It wasn’t until 2018 that theaters across the country screened a movie starring the first mainstream black superhero in “Black Panther.”

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“A lot of times dark skin is associated with evil or evil by nature, and you usually can’t be a superhero,” James said. In one of her portraits, below, she painted her second cousin holding a “Black Panther” comic. delivered.

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Q’shaundra James

Work by Q’shaundra James. (Source: Q’shaundra James)

“People were very excited to see a superhero on the big screen. We have ‘Blade’ but we’ve never had as a cookie-cutter superhero before.”

If her work sounds familiar to you, it might be because she was one of the top three finalists in Park West’s “Made in Vegas” contest. Although she did not take the first place, she certainly did not lose anything. impressed with his job they offered him a contract anyway.

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His third submission for this contest was from another first cousin, this one holding a purple bunny with a missing leg.

“I was playing on the concept of exploiting the black body,” James explained, “in relation to the rabbit, where he’s supposed to be lucky for his foot. But that’s a contradiction because how lucky can you be without his foot ? “

Specifically, James points to professional sports for this metaphor. “Blacks exploited for their physique and not valued for their opinion, like basketball players.”

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Q’shaundra James

Work by Q’shaundra James. (Source: Q’shaundra James)

Help others find their voice

James’ work has a lot to say and while the young artist has clearly found a voice on the canvas, she is also helping others find their voice as a teacher.

She says she’s worked with middle school and high school kids, but most recently she taught an active adult art class at Doolittle Senior Center on North J Street near Lake Mead Boulevard.

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“She’s a wonderful teacher,” said Phyllis Finney, one of her students. Finney is also a writer and decided to take the course to help her with some illustrations for her book.

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Amy Abdelsayed, 13 Action News

Phyllis Finney (left) paints alongside Velma Reed (right). Both are Q’shaundra James art students at Doolittle Senior Center.

“Sometimes you didn’t even realize that these colors would look beautiful together and these shapes that you didn’t even pay attention to, some of them that you see every day when you walk down the street and you Never mind it, “Finney said. “She drew our attention to all of this.”

For James, learning goes both ways.

“Whenever you teach there is always an exchange of information. I feel like I am learning a lot more about the history of Las Vegas through them,” she said, highlighting the wisdom of the students in his class.

Where to find your job

You can find Q’shaunrda James’ work at the following locations in the Las Vegas area:

  • The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV as part of the “Seeing / Seen” exhibition by Erica Vital-Lazare. The museum is located at 4505 South Maryland Parkway.
  • A notice board at 3152 South Highland Drive, near Interstate 15 and Desert Inn Road. The billboard is part of a public art project powered by Meow Wolf and SaveArtSpace.
  • Las Vegas City Hall at 495 South Main Street in Las Vegas.
  • His work has previously been shown at Henderson Town Hall and the Park West Gallery inside Caesars Palace.

Learn more at qshaundrajames.com and follow her on Instagram at @little_troublemaker.

This story is taken from our “Las Vegas Art Scene” segment in our brand new dedicated digital show “How to Vegas”. Watch “How to Vegas” at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays – and throughout the weekend – using the KTNV app on your favorite streaming device.



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