Pin It
Rituals, Shaniqwa Jarvis, Rajendra Debah
Courtesy of HVW8 Gallery, Shaniqwa Jarvis and Rajendra Debah

Shaniqwa Jarvis & Rajendra Debah’s sweet vignettes of everyday family life

Rituals is a vision of harmonious black family life, soundtracked by Kelsey Lu

Rituals is inspired by the home life of the Kerrs, a Los Angeles family who’ve lived in the Hannock Park neighbourhood for 40 years. The project is a collaboration between photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis and filmmaker and artist Rajendra Debah, with an original score by acclaimed musician Kelsey Lu. In a series of still portraits and film vignettes, Rituals captures the intimacies of life in the Kerr household in a way that retains the unceremoniousness of everyday life, yet also possesses a cinematic quality that lends these ordinary moments a kind of drama and meaning.

Jarvis and Debah’s Rituals is a series of poignant and beautiful vignettes from a movie you really want to watch. Every character in the fictionalised take on the family seems intriguing and every picture suggests myriad different narratives. A matriarch and “maverick renaissance woman” with a passion for opera appears alongside her engineer husband, as well as other characters including Brandi Sellars Jackson, her son Jax and husband Jon, actor Millian Butler and nine-year-old competitive swimmer Alexa Grant.

Currently showing at HVW8 Gallery in Los Angeles, below we talk with Jarvis and Debah about the origins of Rituals and their desire to portray a positive, harmonious image of black family life.

“We thought it should be seen in the way we created it; as a piece of art and as an honest and joyous portrayal of black family life” – Shaniqwa Jarvis

Can you tell us a bit more about how this exhibition came to be? 

Shaniqwa Jarvis: We made a trilogy of short films called Cars in Los Angeles in 2012. All are portraits of cars and the creative people who own them. Someone who wanted to collaborate with us at an ad agency saw it and commissioned us to make what is now Rituals. Raj and I wrote it, and got good people to help us make it. We shot it all in Los Angeles in a house owned by Dolores Kerr, who I met on a photoshoot for a clothing line she created. She has owned and lived in this beautiful house in Hancock Park in Los Angeles and has raised her family and cultivated many cultural moments there since the 60s. To us, she represented the epitome of the story we wanted to share. One we didn't feel we saw properly represented within advertising. After a year, the work sat on a shelf at the agency and we decided to put it out ourselves. We felt it too important of a piece to never see the light of day. We thought it should be seen in the way we created it; as a piece of art and as an honest and joyous portrayal of black family life. 

Do you have a favourite image or film vignette from Rituals? If so, why does this stand out to you?

Shaniqwa Jarvis: ‘Swimmer’ is my favourite as I grew up as one. The dedication and commitment from my family and friends supporting me through that time is still very impactful for me.

Rajendra Debah: ‘Recital’ is my favourite vignette, it reminds me of my love for music. Music can be bonding and how you can pass the tradition of music; practice and craft through generations.

What’s the narrative you want Rituals to convey?

Rajendra Debah: Peace and reflection and positive affirmations. What's truly important; family and dedication and really being good to one another.

How does the mixture of stills and moving image work alongside each other? 

Shaniqwa Jarvis: I think they complement each other. A bit like Raj and I. We have worked together like this before and find it brings the best out of both of us.

Rajendra Debah: I think the mixture of stills and video complement each other. Offering two ways to interpret our stories. they both expound upon one another.

Can you tell us a bit more about the score of the films? Did you already have an idea about what you wanted Rituals to sound like?

Shaniqwa Jarvis: When we knew we were going to show the work in a gallery at the end of last year, we reached out to Kelsey Lu to see if she was interested. After she viewed the work, she committed to scoring the pieces. I think the work resonated with her and reminded her of how her dad supported in her musical ambitions in life.

Rituals is showing at HVW8 Gallery, Los Angeles, until March 29