Artists on Coping: Manju Shandler

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

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Manju Shandler

Manju Shandler creates symbolic art that speaks to current events. Building upon established storylines from myth, religion, science, and contemporary events her mixed media artworks create a richly layered narrative reflective of our dense and complicated times. Manju Shandler has shown at The National September 11th Memorial & Museum, The Hammond Museum, Brown University’s Sarah Doyle Gallery for Feminist Art, The ISE Cultural Foundation, The Honfleur Gallery, The Governor’s Island Art Fair, The Untitled Space, and throughout the US, Amsterdam, Berlin, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong. She regularly shows in her community of Brooklyn, NY.

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Wow Mom, 2020 (from the Persistent Mother’s series) 16 x 22 x 16 inches

AS: How are you coping?

MS: This is a heartbreaking time. I am working hard to try stay positive and to maintain as normal a life as possible for my family as we weather quarantine together. I am with my husband, 2 teenage daughters and our dog. Thank goodness for our dog. He’s an endless source of joy and love.

In many ways this has been a time for getting back to basics. Food has become a major source of community and creativity in our house. For the most part everyone is cooking their own food on their own schedules and we come together for a big meal in the evenings.

We have started spending some time in Upstate NY. My in-laws have a house that is available for us to use and it has been great to get a change of scenery and be able to be outside compared to the relative confinement of being in Brooklyn. We’ve been gardening a lot. Working with the earth and cultivating seedlings has felt incredibly therapeutic.

Chatting with friends and being part of the art community has been a great source of inspiration and comfort. This series by Artspiel has been a wonderful insight into how artists are unique innovators in uncertain times. I’ve also started collaborating on The USPA Art project (@uspsartproject) in support of the US Postal Service. Artists are collaborating on unfinished works and mailing them to one another for their partner to complete, then sharing the process on social media.

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Persistent Mothers, installation work in progress, 2020

AS: Has your routine changed?

MS: I have a basement studio at our home in Brooklyn. I’ve always needed the house to be empty for me to be able to deeply focus on my work. Now my family is home all the time, so I have had to recalibrate my studio time to find the quiet moments. I get up early.

A big part of my practice is built around responding to current events as I experience them. The Covid-19 Pandemic is the largest historical event of my lifetime. The unforeseen ways in which the world is changed will be unparalleled. I don’t consciously know how to make a response to that. But my subconscious has led me to begin a practice of gilding price tags. I have used paper and thread price tags in my work for some time. I like their physical form and their symbolism. But I have never gilded them before. Something about the meticulous labor and delicate craftwork of preparing these small surfaces: adhering the gild, sanding the edges, and coating the surface so it won’t tarnish feels like the right action for now. I plan on doing 1,000 or more.

I am adding these golden price tags to a larger installation I have been developing for the last year, titled Persistent Mothers. This feminist piece uses half scale representations of my own body that is puppet, doll, or trophy to grapple with my role in society as a woman and a mother in a direct and tender way. The price tags feel like they fit in this world, but also like they may take on their own form over time. Right now, the repetitive craft of making them feels good.

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AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

MS: If I allow myself to peer over the dark edge, I can get pretty freaked out. I see many devastating examples of sickness, death, lack of income, isolation. People I know are really suffering and there is very little that can be done to help other than keeping to our own islands. I don’t know what this will do to our collective society, but the symbolism feels worryingly at odds with the ideas of inclusion and community. And what will this do to our economy? My husband has been out of work for 8 weeks. How long can this last? What will be the long-term effects of having a robust economy suddenly shut down? It is really scary.

The optimist in me imagines that we will get through this quickly and that people will be eager to come together again. Things will be different, but once we are healthy, jobs will resume, and shared public life will continue. I hope that we will come through this with our priorities in greater perspective: valuing family, sharing meals, and with a far greater clarity that health care is a human right that everyone should have access to. I hope the newfound respect for health care workers, teachers, and other essential workers will continue.

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Persistent Mothers, 2020 backside of installation, featuring gilded price tags.

AS: What matters most right now?

MS: Taking care of my family is the most important thing to me right now. I am trying my best to support everyone so that we can come through this healthy and as close to whole as possible. I feel incredibly grateful for our health, home, and the love that is there.

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

MS: I really hope we get new leadership out of this. Certainly, Donald Trump did not cause the Coronavirus, but he did fire the committee that would have been in charge of infectious disease oversight years ago. His continued willful ignorance has led the US, and my home of New York City, to be the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic.

If we had had earlier foresight and took preventative measures much, much earlier perhaps some of this horror could have been mitigated. We need smart human beings in leadership who will hire experts and listen to their advice. We need strong and compassionate elected officials to get our society healthy and on the road to recovery.

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Where’s Our White Horse (from the series What Would George Do?), Manju Shandler, 2017, Mixed media (graphite, India Ink, acrylic paint, gesso, and charcoal on polyester film), 36 x 36 inches

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: