Shane Shakoor on Black creativity and freedom of expression

Shane Shakoor displays his piece titled "Along The Way" in the VISIONS art exhibit at Lakeside Pavilion on Feb. 10.

A Baltimore native, senior Shane Shakoor has a “love-hate” relationship with his childhood.

“I reject unpacking that part of my life,” Shakoor said. “I forgot the bad, but also [forgot] the good.”

While the motion pictures major and strategic communications minor calls his upbringing normal and basic, this complicated relationship stems from the rejection and repression of his artistic self he endured to fit in with his peers.

“Being artsy exposed me in a way with my sexuality. I wasn’t into the typical things that boys were really into like sports, football, things like that,” Shakoor said.

Growing up, the multi-talented creative played classical guitar and saxophone in his school band along with other artistic pursuits.

This creative past helped him curate the NASDAQ Amplifying Black Voices multimedia series in 2021 and last month’s BCCXBAM VISIONS Afrofuturism exhibit. A textbook multihyphenate, Shakoor also releases music under the name Shakko.

When I pronounced it shock-oh, Shakoor corrected it to shake-oh. This ambiguity is purposeful.

“I think the best artists’ names are pronounced different ways by different people,” Shakoor said. “I like ambiguous names that no one knows how to say.”

His list of accolades doesn’t seem to end. While Shakoor’s main gig is leading the Black Creatives Collective (BCC) as president, he’s also been the Creative and Art Director for Gravity Magazine and an editor and co-producer for UMTV.

Add his status as a Hammond scholar, a semester abroad in Brazil and internships with NBCUniversal, NASDAQ and Paramount Pictures. It must be difficult fitting these experiences on a one-page resume.

None of these accomplishments were accidental, however. In high school, Shakoor knew he wanted to intern at certain companies, continue his artistic endeavors and study abroad.

“I always know what my next move is gonna be,” Shakoor said. “Though it hasn’t gone exactly to plan, the planning has helped me a lot in setting me up to do those things,” Shakoor said.

Something largely unplanned was his involvement in BCC, a student organization just two years old. Founded by UM alums Olbrine Thelusma, Naila Anderson and Taj Bland, BCC is a supportive outlet fostering creation & collaboration for young creatives at UM.

“It was needed. It was highly recognized among the Black community once it started, even though it was an independent organization,” Shakoor said. “There was such a space to be filled that people gravitated toward the organization.”

The now-president started as the organization’s secretary, eventually making his way to vice-president before his current role. With 200 Engage members and nearly 1000 Instagram followers, the club has seen immense growth in a short period of time. The transition was rocky, though.

“You just have to make sure the show keeps going,” Shakoor said. “Nothing’s falling apart as much as you think it is, nothing’s as bad as you think it is.”

In February 2021, Shakoor curated the NASDAQ Amplifying Black Voices multimedia series while interning at the company.
In February 2021, Shakoor curated the NASDAQ Amplifying Black Voices multimedia series while interning at the company.

On Feb. 10, BCC collaborated with the Black Awareness Month (BAM) committee to host the VISIONS exhibit with a focus on Afrofuturism.

When planning the event, Shakoor and BAM chair Dahlia Mason expected somewhere between 50 and 75 attendees, far from the 250 that attended the exhibit on Feb. 10. After interest picked up, the pair quickly realized that they would need more sponsors, equipment, technology, and money than they anticipated.

As BCC President, Shakoor singlehandedly mentored the exhibit’s seven featured artists.

“I was buying the materials, getting their project proposals outlined, editing their projects, making sure that everything was doable,” Shakoor said.

Prior experience at NASDAQ prepared him for this process, but the production aspect was new to him, possible only with a “community effort” from Mason and the BCC Executive Board.

“It’s such an innovative event — it’s not like we’ve done this before,” Shakoor said. “I feel like it will become an annual thing.”

Shakoor’s favorite parts of the night were the artist Q&A and the vocal and instrumental performances that set the atmosphere. His enjoyment of the musical guests in particular reflects an overall love for music, which he cites as his primary creative catalyst.

“I will consume music and it will come out in different forms of art like painting, sculpture, literally everything,” Shakoor said.

Listing his musical inspirations, Shakoor highlighted R&B artists Solange, Daniel Caesar, Destin Conrad, Kehlani, Ari Lennox and Jazmine Sullivan, whose work he calls “good, quality, traditional, highly-recognized art.”

Other sources of inspiration include UM alum Olbrine Thelusma, who he talks to nearly every day and can relate with on an artistic level.

Freshman Wes Lucas, whose work was featured in the VISIONS Exhibit, and senior Jay DeGrace, a multi-faceted artist who Shakoor calls “an incredible talent,” also made the list.

Shakoor feels that creativity flows when people let go of strict expectations.

“You have to detach from the standards that people have for you, and it’s like, ‘I’m going to do what I need to do and whatever is for me will come,’” he said.

For Shakoor, detaching from the standard meant taking time off to study abroad last spring and explore Brazil.

Doing a semester abroad in Rio De Janeiro served Shakoor well. His academic experience looked completely different — he only went in-person to campus on Thursdays and took 13 credits, two of which were asynchronous.

“Other countries don’t have this hyper-identification with clubs and organizations like we have here,” Shakoor said. “It was nice to get out of this environment of meetings every night and having to make agendas, even though I love and enjoy being in my orgs.”

Shakoor described his time abroad as “free” and “peaceful.” The senior studied topics like Brazilian architecture and culture, LGBTQ Brazil, stereotypes versus reality and the Portuguese language. Being in Brazil gave him a new view on productivity and enriching life experiences.

“Imagine how much more we would enjoy [the city of] Miami with a little less commitment here on campus,” Shakoor said.

Shakoor released music in 2020 and 2021 under the name Shakko.
Shakoor released music in 2020 and 2021 under the name Shakko.

Most notably, his time abroad changed the trajectory of his last year of undergraduate study.

“I never thought I would take a language class again, and now I’m learning Portuguese…and I’m also learning a lot about Latin American culture.”

After graduation, Shakoor hopes to travel for several months — possibly in Brazil again — and continue creating art.

‘I crave the atmosphere I felt when I was not in the United States,” Shakoor said. “I feel this pressure to capitalize on my talents here and such a pressure to conform in a lot of ways too.”

Realistically, he wants to work in the music tech industry at the intersection of live production and brand strategy for artists and labels. Companies like Spotify, Dolby, and Vevo came up.

Above all, Shakoor knows his worth.

“My taste is very impeccable. I know that I have input that needs to be shared,” Shakoor said. “I can’t afford to not create and collaborate and contribute to the air that we are in art right now. I can’t afford to not be involved, and that motivates me a lot.”

Factors like success and money also motivate Shakoor, but his want of recognition is outweighed by his desire for the freedom that comes with financial security and the ability to give back to his community.

After leaving UM, Shakoor hopes to set a foundation for BCC to support Black artists and prove that it deserves continued support from UM.

He also wants young creatives to know that they can pursue their creative passions in an environment that will support them.

“Your creation is worth it,” Shakoor said. “Everything that [you] do is of value of someone and to yourself.”

On the side, Shakoor’s been working on his personal brand Disoriented, which he sees becoming a “community phenomenon.”

“I want it to be weird, abnormal, innovative things that people are doing within art, and heavily focus on people themselves,” Shakoor said.

So far, he’s working with a logo and little else, but he sees the brand creating short form documentaries on people and ways of thinking, asking questions like “How is thought transitioning throughout generations?”

Shakoor implores young creatives to relax, take advantage of free experiences, study abroad while in school and explore the city of Miami.

“It’s only gonna be script material for what you create,” Shakoor said. “No life experiences equals no art.”

To keep up with Shakoor’s next move, follow him on Instagram @shaneshakoor and @shakkomusic.