Interview: Artist Sheinina Raj & Her Collaborators behind ENLIGHTEN Light Painting Photography & INTERCULTURAL Art for World Peace

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From May 4th to 7th in New York City, Aluminyze presents the abstractly expressionistic ENLIGHTEN and the portrait-based INTERCULTURAL exhibits produced and curated by Artist Muse. In collaboration with musicians Nelly Furtado and The Crystal Method, artist Sheinina Lolita Raj will use both her story and her body to express powerful personal and engagingly universal messages of peace, acceptance and beauty.

Sheinina Lolita Raj has worked on the Enlighten Light Painting Photography exhibition for over a decade. ENLIGHTEN is inspired by universal energy and Sheinina Lolita Raj’s embodiment of it. She paints and works with various light sources and a multitude of photography techniques. The original 35mm transparency film is a blank canvas that is exposed multiple times, as layers of light are captured by her body and its movement with light.

INTERCULTURAL is a visual portrait and sound project. The exhibition is currently touring worldwide and will be showcased at the Santa Monica Travel and Tourism/F.A.B. Gallery, Miami Design Preservation League, Frieze London, Paris Photo and Miami Art Basel. It is a conceptually rigorous portfolio exploring conventions of ethnicity through a series of costumed self-portraiture featuring artist Raj arrayed in the traditional finery of diverse nations with the backdrop of music by Nelly Furtado.

More details on the upcoming exhibition in New Your City, can be found on Cartwheel Art’s Save the Date.

Cartwheel Art had the opportunity to speak with Sheinina Lolita Raj about her creative process, and get a behind-the-scenes perspective about Aluminyze’s and Artist Muse’s involvement in the project.

Here’s what Sheinina Lolita Raj had to say:

When did you first discover photography?

I first picked up the camera while studying at Emily Carr University of Art + Design while in my foundation year.

What is it about this medium that engages you?

Since I loved to draw in graphite and paint figures in acrylic, when I picked up the camera my eye for light and color was challenged by the technical requirements. I enjoyed the challenge.

In the ENLIGHTEN collection, you utilized movement with light to illustrate the power of universal energy. Describe your relationship with universal energy, and what inspired you to capture it in this series.

I traveled to Fiji a number of years ago with my Grandmother and Father to better understand and relate to my ancestral lineage. While I was there, I had a euphoric experience. I had a unique sense of peace with my environment in a way that transcended my mind and body. I remember seeing my aura; it was bright with every color of the rainbow as it encircled me. I’ve been channeling that energy ever since. I do this through meditation at night while the world is quiet around me. When I feel charged, I’m ready to express the universal energy flowing through me.

INTERCULTURAL is, in part, inspired by your personal racial profiling experiences. What were a few experiences that resonated with you?

The first question that anyone ever asks me is, “Where are you from?” Since living in Los Angeles, I have been mistaken for Mexican, Armenian and Persian to name a few. A few experiences:
While dining in a nice restaurant in Beverly Hills, I got up from my table. On my way to the restroom, I was stopped by a person, who said, “Can I get this table cleaned?”
I have been shouted at in my own neighborhood. The person claimed I was driving on a one-way road, which I explained wasn’t the case. They responded, “What the F** do you know? You don’t live here.”

How did Nelly Furtado and you come into contact?

Nelly discovered INTERCULTURAL during my exhibition in Toronto. She contacted me after she purchased the Portuguese Woman portrait. She said it had inspired her to write music. She asked if I had considered adding music to the collection. My answer was yes. I had considered music and had recently discovered a new smart sound technology system that I felt would be ideal for a collaboration. The Soundwall resonates omnidirectional sound waves through the HD aluminum print. This allows for a unique immersive experience and for the art to be one piece rather then two separate mediums coexisting in one space.

How did you two collaborate?

We both wanted to be sure that adding a medium would deepen the understanding of the intention of the artwork. The quadrophonic Sound Art collaboration includes the portraits, Moroccan Woman, Hawaiian Woman, Mexican Woman and Indian Woman. The drumming circles of Kenya inspired Nelly to create these four portraits. She supports Free The Children, a nonprofit organization based there. The quadrophonic respects each culture individually, with reference to traditional singing and native instruments. When played in unison, a larger composition is formed, emphasizing the unification and peaceful coexistence intention.

For INTERCULTURAL, you adorn yourself in the traditional regalia of women from around the world. How did you go about researching and acquiring this attire?

Each portrait has it’s own story as to how I found it. There is no exact formula. Acquiring the outfit is a timely process.
For instance for Native American Woman, I researched local Native Tribe organizations. I made many calls and sent out a number of emails. I went to many powwows and Native American events until I found a young lady who was open to supporting my world peace intention through art.
For Saudi-Arabian Woman, I first tried to make a hijab and failed miserably. Then I decided to try and rent one from a well-known movie costume rental company in Los Angeles. I finally found a man in Annenheim who imported traditional hijab outfits from Saudi Arabia. He was kind and even showed me how to wear the hijab via FaceTime, as I copied him step by step.

You are currently on a world tour for INTERCULTURAL. How has this added to your experience of the exhibition?

The launch of the World Tour began in Toronto, Canada. I was struck by how much emotion was invoked. A number of women cried. One woman was half-Syrian and half-Indian. She explained how she struggled with identity and that INTERCULTURAL helped her understand and embrace herself. Another woman was Jewish and cried at the Moroccan Woman’s Hand of Fatima. This is a peace symbol and openly states that she does not harbor negative emotions, due to war torn relations notably between Muslim and Jewish people. I discovered tears of empowerment as INTERCULTURAL moved many women.

What are some of the responses you have encountered regarding INTERCULTURAL?

In Toronto, there were a number of responses from the Asian community that they were not represented. This gave me the confidence I needed to cross into Asian territory, and it is what led to my portrayal of Japanese Woman and Thai Woman.
While the exhibition was at Miami Art Basel, I decided to spend a Sunday afternoon at the gallery. I wasn’t there for more then fifteen minutes before I heard a woman crying. When she discovered I was there, the only words she could bring herself to say were, “This is beautiful. You have done something beautiful.” She then asked if she could hug me. I did so, and she cried on my shoulder. Within one hour, a total of four women had cried. They was an array of ethnicities from Caucasian, African American, Cuban to Indian present. The age range was young to elderly. It was clear to me that we walk with armor and that I had created a safe and embracing environment that allowed for disarmament. This inevitably brings tears of empowerment as the soul is touched by the pure intention of world peace.

Cartwheel Art got a chance to chat with Will Phearson of Artist Muse about their involved with the project.

To Will: Tell us a little about Artist Muse and how you became involved with INTERCULTURAL.

Artist Muse is a multi-tiered art company that produces and curates cultural events, art exhibitions, commercial properties, art consult, and reps visual artists. We believe that the visual arts are vital for personal wellbeing and serve a critical catalyst for socio-economic development. As such, a percentage of our profits always benefit local art-centered charities.

I became involved with INTERCULTURAL by being introduced to Sheinina Raj at one of my board events. Shortly after, she contacted me and sent over the first raw image of Indian Women. She asked what I thought, and I flipped out. Even at the beginning stages of the work, it was strong. I promised her that I would support and back the work. I promised that we would show at Art Basel 2016, and we did with an extremely successful show. The rest is history.

Aluminyze partnered with Shenina Raj to capture the unique beauty of each print and bring the work to life. We spoke to them about the history of the company and how an Aluminyze print is created.

How did Aluminyze begin?

Aluminyze grew out of a small town photo store, which quickly expanded to include photo-based gift items and print photos on mugs, mousepads, t-shirts, and, eventually, aluminum prints. While smitten by the luminous quality, incredible color, and detail the metal sheets lent the photographs, we found that there was no seamless method of ordering high-quality aluminum prints online. We built state-of-the-art aluminum photo printing labs in our current Brooklyn home and our easy-to-use online platform to bring this medium to the masses. Our dye sublimation process, coupled with perfectionist standards and the highest quality materials, magnifies the beauty of both the photo and the aluminum, resulting in gorgeous prints luminous with color and high-resolution detail.

What is the process behind an Aluminyze print?

Each image is color-corrected by a specialist and printed onto transfer material with sublimation dye. It is then placed on an aluminum sheet, which has been treated with an Aluminyze’s custom-made coating and placed in a specialized heat press, which opens up the coating’s pores while the dye sublimes from a solid to a gas state. Once the heat is reduced, the gas returns to a solid upon the aluminum surface while the coating’s pores close over it and sealing the dye inside. It’s as close to magic as chemistry gets.

Exhibition in NYC:
May 4th – May 7th

Gallery Hours:
Thursday May 4th (11:00am – 5:00pm)
Friday May 5th (10:00am – 7:00pm)
Saturday 6th (9:00pm – 11:00pm
Sunday 7th (11:00am – 6:00pm)

Opening Reception:
Thursday May 4th (6:00pm – 11:00pm)
The Crystal Method live curated set (10:00pm – 11:00pm)

Artist Talk & Signing:
Moderated by Shana Nys Dambrot with The Crystal Method and Sheinina Lolita Raj
Friday May 5th (4:00pm – 5:00pm)

After Hours:
Saturday May 6th

Closing Reception:
with Champagne Brunch, Artist Meet and Greet, and Champagne Closing Sunday May 7th (11:00am – 6:00pm)

Artist Muse satelite gallery 800 5th Avenue, Manhattan New York City

INTERCULTURAL Future Tour Dates:
Santa Monica Travel and Tourism/F.A.B. Gallery: September 21st – November 30th 2017
Miami Design Preservation League: September 6th – December 30th, 2017
Frieze London: October 4th – 18th
Paris Photo: November 8th – 22nd
Miami Art Basel: December 7th – 10th

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