Based in Los Angeles, Kenesha Sneed is an illustrator, creative director and multidisciplinary artist whose work speaks to empowerment and the black female experience while ensuring a balance of purposeful colour and fluid forms.
Kenesha, who also creates textiles, ceramics and other physical objects under the name Tactile Matter, has released her first children's book Many Shapes of Clay today – written and illustrated by Kenesha and published by Prestel Publishing, Random House.
Illustrated with Kenesha's bold colours, graphic lines and gestural textures, the book celebrates diversity while sharing a straightforward message: that we all can heal and create.
The book is a modern-day fable about grief wherein a young girl, Eisha, discovers the joys – and the pains – of the creative process. Eisha's character was inspired by Kenesha's own personal experience of grief and the process of learning to lean on her practice and her community to navigate loss. Best put by the publisher: "Eisha lives with her mother, a ceramic artist, who helps her make a special shape out of a piece of clay. The shape reminds Eisha of her father, of the ocean, of a lemon.
"As Eisha goes through her neighbourhood doing errands with her mother, the piece of clay hardens and then shatters into pieces when Eisha taps it. In poignant and powerful words and pictures, Kenesha Sneed shows how Eisha learns to live with the sense of loss and of the joyful power of making something new out of what is left behind."
Many Shapes of Clay was also created and fuelled by a desire to increase representation within the world of children's books and teaches children of colour how to channel their grief into something beautiful.
"My mother encouraged diversity in the things my brothers and I consumed growing up," she says in a 2019 interview with i-D. "She made sure there were black figures by black artists in different parts of the house. It was important to see us reflected back at ourselves."
She continues: "I've always loved mentoring and speaking to a younger audience, and I feel inspired by the ways our talented youth show up and express themselves."
The book's publication arrives during a year wretched with collective grief globally and at a time when many children are experiencing grief for the first time. While Many Shapes of Clay is in many ways personal for Kenesha, it is clear that the story is being written for a reason much larger than herself.