It’s Nice That has spoken to Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley on using work as self-help, the importance of sound and music to her artistic production, and the terms of inclusion for Black trans people in video games.
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley is an animation and sound artist archiving their existence as a Black trans person
By Jyni Ong
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley is a radical artist making work that is the first of its kind in terms of aesthetic, sound and concept. Working predominantly in animation and sound, they combine the two in a wholly original way to communicate their thoughts and experiences around Black, trans identity. Speaking to It’s Nice That, Danielle says, “there are hardly any visible Black and trans artists. We exist but people would rather have us remain quiet. I am tired of being silent. I am tired of the active silence that occurs when I experience trauma. So between being too anxious to leave my room and braving the outside, I make work as a way of dealing with, and recording ongoing events in my life. I would call them all self-help pieces. It’s been the best way of dealing with the pain and love that Black and trans people exist in”, they explain.
Danielle’s work uses sound emphatically to further communicate intense expression in their films. The strong relationship between the sound and visuals “hold each other” and are in-keeping with the electronic, video game aesthetic of their work while conveying a sense of style directed by the artist. “I want to tell stories with the sound”, Danielle adds. “Sometimes I’m listening to a track and I’m constantly using it to feel more confident whilst walking around in public. So those tracks get sampled within the work as a kind of underlying support”. Agreeably, the accompanying sound of the animations exude a unique style. Sound and music is an important dynamic in the artist’s life that translates into the work; “I’m constantly using sound in my real life to protect and comfort myself… Sometimes, to sing a phrase that is too painful to speak seems easier than making a visual representation”, explains Danielle. “A lot of my work basks in overloading. Both the sounds and visuals overload. I want to overload a viewer. My experience is an overload. I don’t ease into environments so neither does my work. It’s loud, angry and busy. It needs to be”.
The game aesthetic is consciously used so the viewer of the work becomes the player in the videos; “they have a more active experience through the choices that are presented and chosen for them”. Daniel’s films are wholly immersive through the engrossing visuals and sound, particularly seen in Blackzilla and Unarchived Adventures.
Blackzilla is “based around the new world being born when Blackzilla, a ‘Black, Trans Robot Archive’ descends to earth. I made the film as a way to reclaim the idea of being seen as something freakish and demonic as a Black and trans body. How the depiction of us through history have compared us to traps and Man-monsters”, says Danielle. It looks at a want to be seen as human while being seen as a freak. Blackzilla’s world represents a space that accepts and archives ‘Black, Trans Monsters’. The film is a constant archive of myself and my experiences”, the artist explains.
Unarchived Adventures is a Point and Click film that comes from wanting a game to represent the artist’s existence. “I’ve been digging and digging for trans representation in video games and mostly come across violent inclusions of trans people”, says Danielle. “A trans playthrough”. Inspired by the artist’s experience to start hormone replacement treatment, Danielle’s life has been governed by the idea that “a pill may be able to get my body to more closely represent my gender”. The artist explains how the traumatic process of the hormone replacement treatment is not well documented or made visible and is a constant fight for those that need it. Finally, when we asked Danielle what we can do to improve acceptance and representation in society, they added, “I don’t know, but I know Black, trans lives need to be central if we are going to be protected in a society”.