I met Shaira one evening of spring 2016 in the Lower East Side which turned out to be one of those never ending downtown nights, to this day brings back so much nostalgia every time it crosses my mind. Through the years she has become a community organizer, activist, curator and mother as well as photographing her peers and nightlife events in New York City. Her recent work was shown on the opening of “The Living Room Kitchen” curated by Kiara Cristina at the Andrew Freeman Home in the Bronx in February 2020.
(S) Tell us about yourself.
(SC) My name’s Shaira Chaer. I was born and still reside in the Bronx, New York City. I’m an activist, strategist, photographer, writer and mom.
(S) How are you keeping busy during Quarantine?
(SC) Quarantine hasn’t changed much of my routine. With a toddler, you have to set a routine – mostly for them to follow – and it’s been easy for me to keep going because I have the privilege of working from home. I have found more time to do mindless things like watch movies (on a quest to watch as many A24 films as possible), write poetry, and consider what new ways I can be creative.
(S) I’ve been following your work for quite sometime and notice a lot of your photos are focused on New York City punk shows and underground raves. When did you get into the scene?
(SC) I’ve been taking pictures since my mom gifted me my first camera at 8, and had been going to shows ever since I was in high school, so putting the two together was second nature to me. With a team of queer folks of color, No Flowers for YT Powers was created in 2017 and we’ve been hosting underground hardcore punk shows and poetry nights ever since. Raving has become more accessible in the recent years – mostly because of collectives like DisCakes, Melting Point and Outlaw – and it became the place where I could just blend in and be myself. No one watches you in the dark. And I think that’s where the magic is, right? My work reflects a moment in time – watching people experience and express joyful moments on the dance floor, heavy bass, flashing lights, and writhing bodies. It isn’t rehearsed or performed. Dreams also influence my work, that’s where my obsession to create colorful landscape in my photographs are from. I try to capture moments in nightlife that make the person looking at my photos feel like they’re there. And now that the pandemic has changed New York City nightlife in ways we have yet to see, sharing my archived work hopefully provides an escape, even if it’s just for a blip in time.
(S) Have you been able to focus on any upcoming projects?
(SC) If the public hasn’t seen them, does that make them new? I was hoarding a lot more work than I thought over the last year, so I’ve been taking a deeper look into my photo archives to see if I’ve missed anything that I could use for future projects; since the pandemic put nightlife out for the foreseeable future, I don’t think I’ll be touching my camera again any time soon. I have been avoiding getting in front of the camera but I’m finally gonna work on a self-portrait series with my one-year-old daughter. It’ll be called MAPI – which is mama and papi put together. There’s a question of how overlooked feminine labor, or home keeping is. It’s been documented to be worth over $1 trillion, which is wild to me. I have a full time job, try to be an active and nurturing parent, write or work on my art and organizing cultural events, but there is so much more expected of me just because I am a mother. In the early months, folks totally forgot about me and just pressed me about the baby. I felt neglected, lonely and not like myself for quite some time. Now that I’m sort of out here again, people are coming out the woodwork to ask me to do shit for them. Man, I’m still growing and changing and I need to be seen as my own person and not just an extension of my child, or an extension of my relationship with her father – I’m more than just the roles I play in people’s lives! And I hope MAPI will dig into the complexity of parenthood as a queer polyamorous person, critique capitalism, and affirm every part of my gender expression, which is always changing.
(S) What are you listening to these days?
(SC) Gotta shout out the homie Adrian AKA H.B.I.C. I bump their latest release más duro pretty often. I’ve been bumping “no indictments/hang yourself.” It’s a song for the times, especially as more news pours in about police brutality towards people of color in the NYPD’s pandemic response, the extrajudicial killings of Black folks like Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and trans femmes like Layla Peláez and Serena Angelique Velázquez in Puerto Rico – I’ve been sitting with a lot of rage and frustration, so this track helps me move through the feelings. (Fun fact, I shot the cover for the EP.)
(S) What are some examples of self care that you are practicing during quarantine?
(SC) I’m practicing empathy for myself. On hard days, I try to make sure I’m being as real with myself on the things I can realistically accomplish. There’s a meme going around that is challenging folks not to fall for the trap of needing to feel like they’re being productive because the world we had two months ago is not the one we exist in now. I’m trying to incorporate that in my daily life and kill the boss in my head.
Follow more of Shaira Chaer’s work on Instagram @shairacnyc