Last year I was awarded a research grant by the John J. Wilcox Archives at the William Way Center here in Philly. I'd originally reached out to the archives a few years ago to learn more about "UNITY, Inc.," a grassroots organization founded by James Roberts and Tyrone Smith in the '90s, after watching a short documentary about queer life in Philly narrated by Essex Hemphill, who is one of my favorite poets.
When I received the grant my initial intent was to use whatever findings to help complete a poetry chapbook I've been working on for quite some time. But once I entered the archive the idea began to bloom. I was inspired by the breadth and depth of it all. I became obsessed with the collection of chapbooks and poetry. I saw early works by Pat Parker, discovered the work of Adrian Stanford, and ultimately landed on"Double Exposure" by Ian Young which had an incredible halftone op-art cover designed by Mike Boyd. This find would eventually take the project to a new level.
I was astounded by all this creative cover art and Boyd's halftones sparked a deeper interest in Queer artists like Andy Warhol and Glenn Ligon who both famously use/d screen printing as a medium of expression. I hightailed it to Pittsburgh to do a little sourcing and pay a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum to get up-close-and-personal with the work, and I'm thankful that I did. Seeing Warhol's work, specifically his use of the photographic silk screen technique in the Most Wanted Man series - the sheer scale of it all! - made it very clear to me what I was to do with my findings in the Archive.
"The Seeds This Soil Holds" is the culmination of this journey. It is an immersive chapbook installation that combines my poetry and photographic silkscreen diptychs created by hand in Philadelphia in collaboration with Ream Editions. There are 9 prints in total and a portion of all sales will be donated back to the William Way Center.
The images were so fab I asked to collaborate with Philadelphia Print Works on a collection of tees and a tote using the same original artwork and they gladly accepted.
Join me on June 8th for an opening reception for the show that will be up for the month of June.
The 1980s and 1990s marked a transformative era for the LGBTQ+ movement, as individuals from marginalized communities courageously expressed their identities through art. In this blog post, we delve into the lives and contributions of Black queer artists who left an indelible mark on these decades, challenging norms, celebrating diversity, and paving the way for future generations. Among these voices is Essex Hemphill, whose impact was felt through his insightful poetry and advocacy.
Marlon Riggs: Documenting the Unseen
Marlon Riggs, a filmmaker and poet, shone a spotlight on the experiences of Black gay men. His documentary "Tongues Untied" (1989) broke boundaries by unapologetically addressing issues of identity, racism, and homophobia. Riggs's work bravely tackled the intersectionality of race and sexuality, paving the way for candid conversations that challenged societal stigmas.
Assotto Saint: Weaving Words and Identity
Assotto Saint, a Haitian-American poet and playwright, emerged as a prominent figure in New York City's queer arts scene during the 1980s and 1990s. His writings explored the complexities of being both Black and queer, encapsulating the multiplicity of his identity. Through his poetry and performances, Saint forged connections and provided solace for those who felt marginalized by society's constraints.
Audre Lorde: A Trailblazing Legacy
Although Audre Lorde's presence spanned decades, her impact reverberated strongly throughout the 1980s and 1990s. As a Black lesbian feminist poet, writer, and activist, Lorde's words were a rallying cry for justice and empowerment. Her writings explored the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality, challenging readers to confront uncomfortable truths and champion social change.
Essex Hemphill: A Poet's Reverberating Words
Essex Hemphill's poetry captured the essence of being a Black gay man during a time of societal turbulence. His work addressed racism, homophobia, and desire with remarkable honesty. Hemphill's collection "Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry" (1992) delved into the intricacies of love, loss, and self-discovery, leaving an enduring impact on the LGBTQ+ literary landscape.
Honoring Legacy and Moving Forward
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the emergence of Black queer artists who used their creative expressions to break barriers, dismantle stereotypes, and empower marginalized voices. Through their work, Marlon Riggs, Assotto Saint, Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, and others paved the way for a more inclusive and diverse artistic landscape. Their contributions continue to resonate with contemporary artists and activists who strive to amplify underrepresented narratives.
The legacy of Black queer artists from the 1980s and 1990s is a testament to the power of art in challenging societal norms and advocating for change. Marlon Riggs, Assotto Saint, Audre Lorde, and Essex Hemphill, among others, used their voices to bring issues of race, sexuality, and identity to the forefront. Their impact reverberates through generations, reminding us of the importance of representation, inclusivity, and the transformative potential of art.