From the intimate to the utopian, the artists in this section explore desire—both for one another, and for alternative worlds beyond oppression and binary oppositions. For LGBTQ+ people, who are marginalized by heterosexist society and criminalized by the state for the ways in which they love, the stakes of wanting each other are high. Works of art in this section reckon with the attendant fear and danger associated with queer forms of relationship and envision futures wherein such desire, in all its resplendent unruliness, is cherished.
The exhilaration of knowing and holding another person can be felt in John Edmonds’s bedroom self-portrait, in which a moment of quietude seems to open a world within a couple. Desire becomes a silvery mode of navigating memory and communicating longing in Ridnon Johnson’s sensuous video overlaid with a twenty-minute poem addressed to his lover. In work by Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski and Tuesday Smillie, desire mobilizes imagination and compels us to dream. Looking toward tomorrow, these artists offer glimpses into other ways of being and remind us that, in the words of theorist José Esteban Muñoz, “queerness is always in the horizon.”
Felipe Baeza’s collages combine snippets of bondage pornography with images of Mesoamerican sculpture, linking colonialism’s legacy of collecting indigenous art objects with a lust for bodies and domination. In I spent so long trying to know english to find that english doesn’t care, Baeza cites the words of Fujianese poet and drag performer Wo Chan on the difficulties of self-knowledge and acceptance in the face of new languages.
Felipe Baeza uses collage, drawing, painting, and video to, as he says, “creatively reconstruct history,” challenging heteronormative, colonial, and nationalist narratives. Within this reconstruction lies a desire to represent lives lived doubly in the closet, in terms of both sexuality and immigration status. The surfaces of Baeza’s drawings arise from a repeated accumulation and removal of color. Through sanding, collage, and sometimes glitter, the changing state of the surface alludes to migration and the passage of time. In Naj Tunich (Azul 1, 2, and 3), two embracing men emerge from lines made by twine. In search of historical antecedents in visualizing queer desire, Baeza takes inspiration from images of masculine intimacy found in the Naj Tunich cave in Guatemala, painted by Mayans around 250–900 c.e.
Skins is a reflection on LINDALA’s dating life after she began transitioning, when she was navigating an intimate relationship that affirmed her in private but remained unacknowledged in public. Created in collaboration with producer Skyshaker, LINDALA’s poem is laid over a background that mimics the rapid heartbeat associated with physical acts of lovemaking or heightened sensations of desire or lust. As the track continues, the heartbeats increase and echo, transforming into a soundscape reminiscent of a horror soundtrack. Though Skins is specific to her experience as a Black trans woman, LINDALA’s poem reveals the contradictions, uncertainties, and physical and emotional violence that many queer and trans people experience—even within marginalized communities—when their identities do not align with notions of desirability that favor white, cisgender, slender bodies.
Through dance, performance, photography, and video, Camilo Godoy explores the politics and representation of sexuality, colonialism, and citizenship. As a deeply felt account of community and kinship, Godoy’s Amigxs zines document the social and romantic bonds among his friends, lovers, collaborators, muses, and companions. He titled the series Amigxs as a gender-inclusive alternative to the Spanish word for “friends.”
Mark Aguhar’s work poignantly evokes her desire for a self-fashioned femme identity in contrast to normative notions of gender, sex, and race. Much of Aguhar’s practice took the form of Tumblr memes and posts such as Litanies to my heavenly brown body, on view in this gallery, and explores her experience of having “grown up gay on the internet.” Her work has continued to resonate as it circulates within LGBTQ+ communities since her death in 2012. Aguhar’s inclusion in Nobody Promised You Tomorrow emphasizes her profound impact on queer and trans artistic production and the importance of the internet as a space for LGBTQ+ sociality, expression, and desire.
Litanies to My Heavenly Brown Body
FUCK YOUR WHITENESS
FUCK YOUR BEAUTY
FUCK YOUR CHEST HAIR
FUCK YOUR BEARD
FUCK YOUR PRIVILEGE
FUCK THAT YOU AREN’T MADE TO FEEL SHAME ALWAYS
FUCK YOUR THINNESS
FUCK YOUR MUSCLES
FUCK YOUR ATTRACTIVE FATNESS
FUCK YOUR SHAMING ME FOR NOTHING
FUCK YOUR ACCUSATIONS THAT I PRODUCE SHAME
FUCK YOUR READING ME AS A CARICATURE
FUCK YOUR DESTRUCTION OF MY PERSONHOOD
FUCK YOUR MARGINALIZATION OF MY IDENTITY
FUCK YOUR JUDGING ME FOR SELF CARE
FUCK YOUR ABILITY TO BE ASSERTIVE
FUCK YOUR LACK OF SOCIALIZATION TO BE A SUBMISSIVE
FUCK YOUR ASKING ME TO PRODUCE SAFETY FOR YOU AND NOT MYSELF
FUCK THE AMOUNT OF EFFORT I EXERT TO GET LESS THAN ENOUGH CONSIDERATION
FUCK THAT THE AMOUNT OF SPACE I TAKE UP IN THE WORLD IS CONSTANTLY QUESTIONED
FUCK THAT PEOPLE THINK I’M A SLUT
FUCK THAT YOU CAN DEMAND ATTENTION
FUCK THAT I’M WILLING TO GIVE YOU WHAT I CAN’T HAVE
FUCK THAT YOUR VALUES AND YOUR ACTIONS NEVER MATCH UP WHEN IT
COMES TO ME
FUCK THAT I CAN’T EXPECT ANYTHING FROM ANYONE
FUCK THAT THE AMOUNT OF WORK I PUT INTO THE BEAUTY OF MY INTELLECT
AND MY TALENT IS STILL NEVER ENOUGH
BLESSED ARE THE SISSIES
BLESSED ARE THE BOI DYKES
BLESSED ARE THE PEOPLE OF COLOR MY BELOVED KITH AND KIN
BLESSED ARE THE TRANS
BLESSED ARE THE HIGH FEMMES
BLESSED ARE THE SEX WORKERS
BLESSED ARE THE AUTHENTIC
BLESSED ARE THE DIS-IDENTIFIERS
BLESSED ARE THE GENDER ILLUSIONISTS
BLESSED ARE THE NON-NORMATIVE
BLESSED ARE THE GENDERQUEERS
BLESSED ARE THE KINKSTERS
BLESSED ARE THE DISABLED
BLESSED ARE THE HOT FAT GIRLS
BLESSED ARE THE WEIRDO-QUEERS
BLESSED IS THE SPECTRUM
BLESSED IS CONSENT
BLESSED IS RESPECT
BLESSED ARE THE BELOVED WHO I DIDN’T DESCRIBE, I COULDN’T DESCRIBE,
WILL LEARN TO DESCRIBE AND RESPECT AND LOVE
Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski simultaneously evokes an ancient past and a possible future where queer femmes of color, who are often caretakers, are at the forefront of creation and possibility. Instructions for a Freedom depicts a protagonist on horseback—in a posture reminiscent of Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801)—who leads a cluster of figures onward after their emergence from a rainbow. Rainbows are a recurring motif in Moleski’s work, signifying not only LGBTQ+ identity and community, but also bridges between life and death, body and spirit, and the natural world and other realms. Her representations of femme identity, including nail polish, makeup, earrings, and other adornments, posit self-presentation as a mode of creation and tool for survival.
In his sensitive portraits of Black men, photographer John Edmonds images friends deeply known to him as well as strangers scouted on the streets of New York and his native Washington, D.C. Edmonds often withholds the full visual identities of his sitters by photographing them at oblique angles and focusing on the fashions they wear. Whether he captures the nylon iridescence of wrapped heads from behind in his Du-Rag series or the slopes of his lover’s back in a sun-dappled bed, the result is a type of portraiture that acknowledges the unknowability of another’s interiority while reverberating with the artist’s own queer gaze.
Rindon Johnson’s video poem It Is April dives into the artist’s personal journey into a physical and fantastical landscape of love and care for himself and his partner. With an original musical score by Milo McBride, the video echoes Lucille Clifton’s poem “My Wife” (1987) by describing the house they will live in and the warmth of his lover’s apartment: “You and I can lie in the sun and read books all day long without putting on any clothes.” The striking visual of the artist’s head and neck stroked by his lover’s white hands is heightened by the artist’s musings on interracial desire.
With these three prints, Tuesday Smillie enlists viewers in the radical practice of world-building: imagining ways of being beyond our current interlocking systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. The prints were originally exhibited in 2018 as part of a body of work in which Smillie reframed The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic science-fiction novel about an androgynous human population, as a trans-feminist text. At once direct and open-ended, Smillie’s inscriptions provide instructions for forging another future, while embracing failure as an essential step in reaching revolutionary change.
In Marcel Alcalá’s paintings, whimsically surreal vignettes of city life create parables of personal and cultural reconciliation. Adopting a tone of mischievous satire, the artist creates introspective allegories of their Mexican-American heritage, conjuring a landscape in which markers of commerce and gentrification encroach upon a fantastical natural world. Embracing a lineage of queer utopian mythmaking, the artist draws from references that collapse art history with contemporary visual culture, making allusions to Huichol arts, Toulouse-Lautrec, and the Surrealists, among others. Within these exuberant compositions is a seething indictment of colonization and an earnest celebration of cultural endurance and reinvention.