Shori Sims, a 2022 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, is featured in their first major solo sculpture and painting exhibition at this year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival. But they were out of town for their big moment and missed the opening of Little Girl Urn at 707 Penn Gallery in Downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.

“I’m disappointed I couldn’t be at the opening,” they say, “but I’ll be coming back to see it.”

Although Sims has exhibited at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, they say this time was different.

Photo courtesy of Shori Sims.

How do you feel about this being your first solo exhibition for sculpture and painting?

I feel really excited and happy about it, but also a little bit nervous to see how people receive it. This show was actually supposed to happen two years ago, but then Covid happened and everything got all out of whack. I’m happy that people like it though. As an artist, I know you’re not supposed to worry about what other people think about your art, but I was definitely worried.

What were you worried about?

My biggest fear was that there was not enough work, like I thought maybe the place should be filled floor to ceiling. There’s still a good amount of work though and the space is small. I will admit some of my fears were probably irrational.

“Persistence of Memory” by Shori Sims featured at 707 Penn Gallery. Photo by Yoori Kim.

In the description of the exhibition, it states your work is concerned with the construction of a feminist utopia as part of Black people’s vision for the future. Could you elaborate briefly on this?

As a Black femme, I recognize the importance of the role women play in every aspect of Black life and that includes the Black liberation struggle. Black women have a big role to play in the shaping and forming of Black people’s future in order to kind of build the world we want to see. I feel like a lot of time Black women are either ignored or pushed to the back of the movement. 

Why should people go see your exhibition?

I think my art is talking about, or is referring to, important issues and if you’re someone who has any interest in the Black liberation struggle from a feminist point of view or just want to support the movement, I think it could be an important show to see. 

What other places/artists do you pull inspiration from?

I definitely pull inspiration from various artists, not entirely Black women artists. Leyla Faye is one Black femme artist I really admire. Sasha Gordon isn’t a Black femme artist, but has a lot of autobiographical work that I was influenced by.

I watch a lot of movies, naturally a lot of Spike Lee films, and I draw a lot of influence from the ’80s and ’90s. With the painting “Bel Air,” I was really thinking about that era. Another film I referenced with my painting “Lot’s Wife” is “Ghost in the Shell,” the original 1995 one. 

“Lot’s Wife” by Shori Sims is featured at 707 Penn Gallery. Photo by Yoori Kim.

I also read a lot. Toni Morrison is one author I really enjoy.

You don’t have to directly reference things to have their influence be a part of your work and that’s definitely the case with my work.

I’m also really inspired by shoujo anime and other stuff of that kind of nature. I’m also interested in Western comic books and the intense symbolism you can see in them. I’m also really interested in graffiti and not necessarily Banksy-type, high art graffiti, but just the graffiti you see walking down the street. Not just aesthetically, but conceptually, about how it kind of democratizes public space.

What other mediums do you hope to explore/host an exhibition with in the future?

I really love video and working with video so that’s one thing I want to have a show surrounding. I consider myself an interdisciplinary artist so at one point I would love to combine sculpture with my interest in video. I want to find a way to bridge my video practice, my sculpture practice and my painting practice. Also, at the moment, I’m not really making games, but at one point, I would love to make a video game.

How has both growing up in Baltimore and coming to Pittsburgh afterward affected your art?

I’d say I didn’t really get out much when I lived in Baltimore so I wouldn’t claim that that much. I would say I really grew up in Pittsburgh.

Of course there are amazing Black femmes everywhere, but in Pittsburgh, I really got to see and interact with that in a really intimate way. I could just see all of these Black femmes living divorced from racism and I remember going to protests and court supports during the time of the George Floyd murders. That kind of allowed me to really be on the ground and see people actively working to fight racism and racism in all of its forms, the specific kinds that are present in LGBTQ+ spaces or targeted towards women and femmes. 

What is next for Shori Sims?

I know for a fact I’m going to grad school at the Rhode Island School of Design in the fall and I’m majoring in sculpture, but I’m going to see how I can bring my interdisciplinary skills to sculpture and video because I want to hone those two skills especially. After that, I guess the sky’s the limit. I just want to tell people to keep up and stay tuned.

You can see Little Girl Urn from now until Aug. 7 at 707 Penn Gallery in the Cultural District. It is one of seven exhibitions taking place in conjunction with the Three Rivers Art Festival, including the annual Juried Visual Arts Exhibition featuring regional artists.