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Shanna Merola

Shanna Merola is a visual artist, photojournalist, and legal worker. Her sculptural photo-collages are informed by the stories of environmental justice struggles past and present. Travelling to EPA designated Superfund sites, she has documented the slow violence of deregulation – from her own neighborhood on the Eastside of Detroit, to Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens, and Love Canal, NY. Merola lives in Detroit, MI where she facilitates Know-Your-Rights workshops for grassroots organizations through the National Lawyers Guild.
Merola has been awarded studio residencies and fellowships through MacDowell, the Studios at MASS MoCA, Banff Centre for Arts + Creativity, Kala Institute of Art, the Society for Photographic Education, Bulk Space, the Puffin Foundation, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Her collaborative projects include Detroit Resists: A Digital Occupation of the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2016), Oil + Water: Photography in the Age of Disaster Economies with Kate Levy (2017) and Swan Song with Halima Afi Cassells at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2022). She has shown her work in solo exhibitions both nationally and abroad at the Czong Institute for Contemporary Art in South Korea. Merola has held teaching appointments at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Wayne State University, the College for Creative Studies, and in the Department of Art Practice at UC Berkeley in California.

Artist Statement

Love Canal is an examination of the relationship between ecosystems, the human body, and extractive economies. Nestled just outside of Niagara Falls the sleepy town of Love Canal, NY became headline news in 1979 when an entire working-class community learned they had been unknowingly poisoned by leaking dioxin containers buried just below the asphalt. A few decades earlier, in the 1950’s, an industrial company dumped thousands of gallons of chemicals underground and sold that parcel of land to the Niagara Falls school board for one dollar. Fifteen years later the mothers of Love Canal began reporting extremely high rates of birth defects, miscarriages, and childhood leukemia.

Today, wildlife like mullein and milkweed thrive despite elevated toxicity levels that remain ever-present within the landscape. Driveways to nowhere, broken streetlights, and decommissioned fire hydrants mark the empty streets adjacent to a fenced off piece of land where the 99th Street School used to sit. But, in and around the containment zone (which seems eerily quiet now as nature reclaims it), are the stories of women who fought for the right to a safe and healthy environment. The intersections of race, class, gender, and housing are inextricably linked to the struggle as well, which ultimately led to the inception of North Americas first Superfund. Broader themes in the series also explore adaptation, toxicity, reproduction, mutation, and survival - with a focus on the interconnectedness of our fragile ecosystem and the human body.

Untitled (from Wide Eyed),2013
Release Date: April 12, 2024

Antimony Trioxide (Sb2O3) 2023


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