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Shanna Strauss

Memory Keepers

Artist

Shanna Strauss
Born in Arlington, Virginia, in 1978

Title

Memory Keepers

Date

2017

Materials

Photo transfer, acrylic paint, carving and wood-burning, printed fabric, honeycomb, letters printed with stencil on an assemblage of charred wood

Dimensions

200 x 92 cm

Credits

Purchase, gift of R. Fournelle, inv. 2019.25

Collection

Quebec and Canadian Art

This portrait conjures up one of the artist’s forebears, Leti, whose name has been carried throughout the generations by women in her family. Shanna Strauss learned about Leti’s exploits thanks to her Bibi, her grandmother, a keeper of their memories. The latter made her aware of her ancestor through stories passed down orally and songs that described her battles and extraordinary courage. A Nyaturu woman warrior, Leti organized the rebellion of her people, who lived in central Tanzania, against their German colonizers. Dressed in animal skins traditionally worn only by men, she fought until her death. The Germans took her body to examine her brain in order to find out what could have made her so fierce. As the artist’s grandmother pointed out, “They should have looked in her heart, because it was the love of her people that gave her courage.” This work illustrates the symbolism inherent in African oral traditions: the figure embodies the struggles of the women wrenched from their homelands, and the honeycomb acknowledges the contribution of the female beekeepers in the Strauss family. The metaphor of the bees – always working for the benefit of their community – clearly pays tribute to the artist’s ancestors and references the spiritual significance of bees among the African diaspora.

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