Shaka Dendy (@shakadendy) has focused his latest work on inclusion and involvement of community. The 26-year-old multidisciplinary artist and member of the industrial-punk hip-hop group Camp Blood is the 2019 Summer Artist in Residency at Boston’s Center for the Arts. His latest project, “Gestures of Incompleteness,” is part public installation, part service: He’s spent his summer organizing a series of basketball drives across the city, where kids can sign up to trade in a used basketball for a brand new one. Combined with towering milk crates, Dendy reused the old basketballs to construct a large-scale sculpture, located on BCA’s Public Plaza through Nov. 10.
Q. Tell me about why you’re doing this drive.
A. I think it’s important to involve the public in the art work — and not just create something in a vacuum, or just stick something outside a community’s space. I wanted to find a way to bring the public into the work, and acknowledge them: to make it something from the community for the community.
Q. What do the basketballs and milk crates mean?
A. My final project at Emerson was a multimedia installation, and it was also centered around basketball as a symbol of identity and racial identity, accessibility and mobility. I did a performance piece where I shot 1,000 consecutive free throws in the course of two or three hours. I did that with my childhood basketball, and I made a sculpture out of that. I was thinking about what the basketball represents to black and brown kids, and how sport is held up as one of the only ways to achieve social mobility. There’s an implicit suggestion with basketball that, if you can play this game well enough, you can achieve a status in life totally removed from the milk crate and all of its proletariat connotations. I remember using milk crates to play basketball as a kid at Grove Hall — I would cut the bottom and use it for the hoop. So there’s a relationship there, tied to issues of socioeconomic mobility and accessibility. But when it comes to form, I also just like the simplicity of the circle and the square, and just how the milk crates work as big Legos. I’m a fan of contemporary, minimal sculptures. I was thinking of Sol LeWitt’s series of “Incomplete [Open] Cubes,” and trying to make those histories and ideas more accessible and relevant to a different group of people.
Q. When did you start Camp Blood, and what is the music about?
A. With Camp Blood, there’s definitely more of a defined mission statement behind the music and the brand. We started it a little over a year ago — me and my friend Haasan Barclay. We brought in Matthew Thornton as DJ and engineer for the live shows. We’re talking about the black experience in America right now, from our perspective, as young black men who grew up in Florida and Massachusetts. It’s a response to the things that are happening in the world right now, and we’re looking at why things are the way they are.
Q. Tell me about “Pick-in’ Cotton.”
A. This was a piece that I started thinking about when I started growing my hair out again and had to buy a pick for the first time in over a decade. I just had the idea for the title, just as a play on words. Where I’m at right now in my sculpture practice, my work is emblematic of a mixture of both found objects and ready-made objects that are speaking to a contemporary black experience. To me, the found object feels most natural to the African diaspora. Having been stripped completely of material possessions, the ancestors had to create a culture using only what they knew and what they saw around them.
Q. How has 2019 been for you?
A. It’s been really productive. I started to get into music towards the end of last year, while I was also figuring out my voice in terms of my visual art. 2019 has been a wild year for everyone. Everything is always happening right now. That’s a trend not only in the world, but in my life.
Q. What do you think of the Boston arts scene?
A. There’s so many cool artists doing really cool work. But I do think a lot of this city is just not accessible to everyone. The resources and spaces are not evenly distributed.