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Shamshawan Scott's Dream Packs, Eternal Sleepover
"Kaila Thompson in Dream #3"Photographer Shamshawan Scott, courtesy of Eternal Sleepover / Messy

Portraits of the people shaping Atlanta’s creative underground right now

Doing André 3000 proud as hell

In 2009, New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica called Atlanta “hip-hop’s centre of gravity”. He was referencing the cadre of musicians who, across time, have moulded hip hop into the sound we know today. From André 3000, to Childish Gambino, TLCLudacris, and more, the list is endless, showing the world there’s something inherently artistic in Atlanta waters. Ten years on from Caramanica’s statement, and the city is still as wildly creative as it’s always been with the same innovative energy spreading widely across photography, visual art, and fashion.

Capturing some of the emerging faces defining underground Atlanta is ATL born and raised photographer Shamshawan Scott, and his most recent photo series Dream Packs. The series features recently released photobook Eternal Sleepover published by artists The Messy Heads, where every feature was shot between the hours of 10pm-10am. Dream Packs features a personally selected Atlanta based cast of musicians, poets, models, visual artists, and photographers. “Growing up in Atlanta feels like a village because there is so much genuineness in the things people do there – no matter what it is,” Scott reflects. “It’s a community with sub-communities that are still somehow connected. It’s something like a giant spider web.”

“The creative scene here is crazy, everyone has their own identity and it’s not really based off who you are on the internet” – Shamshawan Scott

Scott began his career assisting photographer Tyler Mitchell, who was recently the first black photographer to shoot a cover of American Vogue. Doused in hazy rainbow hues, Dream Packs is an ode to Atlanta’s forever burgeoning underground scene and how the city especially proliferates artists of colour. “The creative scene here is crazy, everyone has their own identity and it’s not really based off who you are on the internet. Anyone can work with anyone and there’s such a strong sense of support. If there isn’t a way to something we make a way. People just want to create.”

Below, we speak to seven creatives poetically shaping Atlanta’s creative scene right now.

TANI GUNN, 20, MODEL

“I moved to Atlanta on my own when I was 17. I was born and raised in a very small, conservative town in Arkansas, and that made me pretty rebellious and unorthodox. I hated rules and questioned everything. Atlanta was the home I was always looking for when I was younger, so when I finally moved there, it was a catalyst for my ambition. 

“When I first moved here, I was always leaving campus to hang out with my older friends. Three of them had their own spot off of University Ave, and one day they invited me over for a ‘midterms study party’. I got no studying done, but this was the first time I was introduced to some of the young tastemakers of Atlanta, not to mention a few of my favourite rappers at the time. At that moment, everything was put into perspective for me: everything I desire is tangible. 

“If you are apart of the creative scene in Atlanta, you’re part of a family. Atlanta is big enough for you to get shit done, but small enough for everybody to know everybody. So everyone tends to be really supportive, genuinely. I haven’t experienced that kind of love from any other city. André 3000 is, of course, my favourite ATL creative. For my future, I hope to be free, in every sense of the word. And to give others the tools to obtain that same freedom.”

ANTOINE MANNING, 19, PAINTER, POET + DESIGNER

“My favourite memory from growing up in ATL is going to the High Museum and seeing Basquiat. That may not seem like a big deal to many people but for me, it confirmed that I could be in the same position he was in. Seeing someone so relatable and who looked similar to myself, it resonated within me.

“I am an artist because I feel so much, I love so much. With those emotions come an overwhelming need to express. My father died when I was in high school and that painfully traumatising experience practically rebooted me expressively. That’s where painting and poetry came along, then one after another my peers starting passing away and that’s when I began to design heavily. 

“Now is the best time to be creative in Atlanta because the support and love expressed within the community is always growing. There is a much bigger spotlight for artists and more room for us to shine within (and outside) of our respective passions. Growing up as an artist here is a luxury as we are living in history.

“If I had to choose a ‘historic’ ATL creative that I admire, it would have to be André 3000 and Chilly-O. They are so versatile, extremely expressive, and true to self. They embody what it means to be a creative (or an ATLien). Truth is, I strongly admire my artistic peers the most. I’m watching them cement their spot in history as I strive to do the same.”

KALIA THOMPSON, 20, VOCALIST + MUSICIAN

“I’ve always had something different to express which has lead me to endlessly create music. I’m a vocalist in Upchuck – a multicultural punk band where I express grievances and desires that I witness and wish to make listeners aware of or at least ponder on. I also make my own electronic lo-fi tracks through the alias Sanguine. Instrumentation and lyricism coincide to create my own world inspired by the deep sea and a level of optimism I tend to follow.

“In ATL, it’s a beautiful thing to see so much culture thrive, uniquely complementing one another. Atlanta has taught me to remain big tough and motivated. Growing up here, the rise of Soulja Boy was honestly mad inspiring, especially to also be a youth. And then to see the effect his music had on others of all demographics. He opened up new doors, which is the ultimate goal.

“There is an endless renaissance occurring within this city. The majority being people of colour, comfortable with their own skin, sexuality, and artistic endeavours. There’s a lot of creativity through multiple mediums, but I see it less as a competition and more so an opportunity to work with like-minded creatives. So far I have met a plethora of wondrous, driven souls, and wish to be nowhere else to experience these moments right now. What sets our city apart is an endless rebirth of young black culture.”

CIRA HENARE, 22, MUSICIAN + PRODUCER

“I’ve been immersed in all things art since I was seven and my Latina mum bought me my first violin when I was 11. Ever since, I just love to perform and be around anyone else who is into self-expression.

“In Atlanta you see everything. From busking to hustlers, pimps, and sex workers, people from all over the world walk the streets of Atlanta. You see ambition though, everyone’s hustling to get what they need done, trying to make a way. In a way, this affects your outlook on life.

“My favourite childhood memory will forever be all of my four siblings and I, and my mom having picnics together in different parks around Atlanta – that was our thing. The creative scene here is dope because at a young age we all bring so much energy and the older creatives encourage and respect that. One thing that’s different in ATL is how resourceful people can be with what we have. I respect and admire everyone that’s pushing hard in the creative scene. I know God’s plans are way bigger than anything I could ever plan for myself.”

ARIANA ABEBE, 21, ARTIST + DRUMMER

“Atlanta is not like most cities, it has a strong sense of family. I’ve been nurtured here by incredible people and creatives. My friends and I have been able to get our peers recognition and curate wholesome energy. The city is a melting pot. I have been involved since I was 16  and what's really cool about Atlanta is how we support one another.

“We are a city that dances! The underground nightlife is thriving more and more as our networks expand and our supporters become more loyal and dynamic. Atlanta has a huge African American and LGBTQ population and they make Atlanta what it is. That being said, there is a lot of room to grow. The voices of LGBTQ, POC, and WOC need to be prioritised even more than they are. The creatives around me recognise this though and I think things are moving in the right direction.

“Recently I’ve started to explore my Ethiopian identity in my work. I've also always listened to many genres of music. Music to me is auditory history and I’m constantly shuffling through the ages enjoying sounds from different worlds. Last year I began drumming and I am currently working in collaboration with my best friends in a band called Kibi James, which is my primary focus.

æAlthough I have mentioned that Atlanta is dynamic and changing, women need to be more present in the scene. Everyone in my band is a woman and we stand for our community, our home countries, and strive to make our spaces as safe as possible. We’re a new band, and a few of us picked up our instruments for the first time last year. But we believe in ourselves and our city believes in us too, the support we’ve had is so humbling. The idea of getting on a stage that you've seen your favourite bands play on is a crazy feeling. We want to set the example that any type of person can succeed in any creative scene, even if you're starting out with the odds against you. The music scene is changing. POC, women, and queer people are taking over and I hope to see this flourish and evolve.”

AMIRA SOS, 19, MODEL

“I'm not sure if I would consider myself an artist, yet. I would like to say that I am just flowing through life and trying out everything in the creative field as much as I can. Of course, I love being in front of the camera, but I want to be more than just a pretty face. I want to multi-task and not just do one creative thing. I am just in a process right now.

“Being raised in Georgia impacted me more as I got older and started hanging out with different people from outside where I was living. I used to stay in a small city called Covington in Georgia. I moved out as soon as I graduated high school and that is when I started meeting more people around ATL. I started gaining a lot of different perspectives and insights from my friends that are painters, models, photographers, graphic designers, just people in those fields in general. All of my ATL friends really inspire me. If it wasn't for them I would not be trying to do what I am doing right now. My hopes for the future is that all of my friends and grow in 2019 in whatever we want to do in life.”

SIERRA MAKALA, 20, VIDEOGRAPHER

“I’m creating to keep sane, writing is always there for me, I’ve made so many videos I’ve lost count... I just love getting that sudden spark of inspiration and just spending all day creating until It comes out like I imagined. I love documenting memories and creating the feeling those memories give and portray them through a video. It’s like looking at like scrapbooks!

“I lived about 30 minutes outside of Atlanta so sometimes I felt like I was outside looking in. Even still now simply because of how rare I’ll post my art and the things I’m doing creatively. Growing up, I used to love going to the High Museum of Art. Every second Sunday of the month the High would be free. Those were always marked on my calendar.

“Creatives here don’t stick to one medium. Multiple different things are happening within their art, from painting to music, to music to fashion. Also I love the way people move in out of the scene by either physically moving or mentally moving. What sets ATL apart is the way the scene is so young and always developing trying to find its identity which honestly feels kind of nice because I am too. Anything and everything is connected, it is a literal web. I admire the ATL creatives that made it out and made it mainstream. The ones who take Atlanta culture and move it cross country and across the world. Childish Gambino always comes to mind the way he sticks to his roots all while doing what he does.”

Eternal Sleepover is a book and CD dedicated to life between the hours of 10pm-10am. You can find out more about the book here