Photo courtesy of United Airlines


Sponsored By

Shantell Martin Wants To Give Women Artists A Support System

We chat with with the artist about her United Airlines partnership

You've probably seen the work of Shantell Martin. Best known for her graphic black-and-white designs, which she's emblazoned on everything from walls to clothes to sunglasses, it seems there's nothing too big or too small for Martin to etch with her signature playful style. Now, she's getting serious with a collaboration with United Airlines.

Martin is working to make space for women in the art world—which is no small task. Only 13 percent of art on display in museums was made by women, indicating the pervasive lack of female representation. That's why United Airlines, with Martin as a mentor, has launched the Her Art Here competition. Women artists of all backgrounds are being invited to submit their work to the contest, with judges (including Martin) picking a winner who will be given the opportunity to showcase their work in two big ways. Not only will they be able to curate their own gallery show, but they will also be given the opportunity to have their work seen from the sky, with a United Airlines plane provided to use as a canvas.

Mentorship can be seen as Martin's baseline practice, as it has woven itself into the way she makes her work. Her creative process involves shedding light on her own practices and the ways in which she creates her art: "I'm not giving the magic away, but I'm creating the work in a visible and accessible way, which facilitates more of a connection than an experience between myself and the audience."

As to why she chose to be a part of this campaign, Martin thinks the best partnerships come when artists align themselves with a project "that means something to us." Her work with United, she says, partners well with a message that she is already very passionate about: recognition of women in the art world. "The message of this campaign, uplifting and creating a space for women in the creative world, reflects something I did on my own social media," she says. "I posted work from other female-identifying artists and wrote #SaturdayShowcase as a sort of conversation-starter in the arts community."

She will also be mentoring the winner of the contest, helping them to pull off what will likely be their largest installation yet. As an already seasoned artist, Martin will definitely have some words of wisdom for the winner. "It's important to show them new ways of working, and to show them that they can work across all types of platforms involving mediums, industries, and brands," says Martin. "I look forward to helping whoever I can and giving as much advice as possible."

Martin's identity is impossible to separate from her work, which comes out in big ways when she creates work live, sometimes in front of an audience. "Your style of identity or fingerprint is naturally there, and for me, drawing live is a great way of refining and cultivating that fact," she says. "It puts me in a position where I don't have time to be anybody else but myself."

She also notes that she wishes that mentors for artists were more readily available. Though she says that she's not particularly weighted down by the industry—"I'm doing my own thing and seeing where it takes me," she says—she does wish that she had had someone to help her learn the ropes of an already exclusive art world. "Starting out, it would have been helpful to have had solid mentors in my earlier life, which is something I'm still looking for now," she says. "I wish people and schooling showed me how to do taxes, read contracts, negotiate, and protect myself as an artist." She's not interested in simply helping the winner break into the art industry, but to actually help them shake the industry up. "It's not necessarily about introducing them into this system that in some ways is already broken, but more so about creating inclusive new worlds."

Overall, it's not just the art world that needs to be more receptive to women and their ideas, though. Says Martin, "In general, it's important to get into the habit of supporting women, so let's support women." Martin is simply laying the groundwork.

For a chance to win, you can enter the Her Art Here contest here. You have until March 24, so get to creating!