The artists featured here honor activist forebears, community members, and friends, from the distant past to recent history. The individuals and collectives from the early years of the queer liberation movement demonstrated a vanguard insistence on being visible and being heard, despite material scarcity and marginalization by society or their families. Often because of their radical politics or expressions of identity, these figures have been minimized in forms of archiving such as mainstream films, newspapers, and books. Some artworks in this section grapple with erasure, while other memorialize foreparents who laid the foundations for contemporary organizing. All forge an expansive, intergenerational lineage of queer and trans culture.
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, activists of color who advocated for the livelihoods of trans and homeless communities appear in works by Sasha Wortzel and LJ Roberts, whose art book, bricks and stone, explores the role of Stormé DeLarverie on the initial night of the Uprising and after. Wortzel and Tuesday Smillie locate their elegies at the edges of the Hudson River, by the piers where LGBTQ+ found refuge and community until gentrification pushed them out. Kiyan Williams engages Marlon Riggs, the poet, activist, and filmmaker whose films criticize racism and homophobia, by centering the experience of a gender nonconforming subject from Riggs’s B-roll film. David Antonio Cruz and LINDALA commemorate the lives of contemporary trans women of color, who experience the heightened violence, to focus attention on the need for protection and care today.
Through portraiture and performance, David Antonio Cruz explores the nuances of gender, queerness, and race, and the invisibility of the brown and Black body in white American media and culture. The enduring portraits from his wegivesomuchandgivenothingatall series pay homage to Black trans women who were murdered in 2017–18, laying bare the glaring and continued systemic violence against the trans community, especially trans women of color. Through dramatic tonal shifts in skin color and composition, which render each individual both real and divine, Cruz revives the humanity of each victim. runlittlewhitegirl is a portrait representing all the many who are misidentified, misgendered, disappeared, and/or not reported. #sayhername
#sayhername is a social movement calling attention to police brutality and antiblack violence against women, femmes, and girls.
As both a reflection on loss and a powerful call to action, LINDALA’s song Urgency considers the heightened realities of violence and death that trans women of color face. In collaboration with ballroom producer Byrell the Great, LINDALA fuses poetry, hip-hop, and house music to advocate for the safety and well-being of trans women. Tracing the legacy of violence against brown and Black people from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to current instances of police brutality, the song centers on LINDALA’s experience of living at the intersection of Black, Latinx, and Caribbean identities. As LINDALA has said, “This song is a reminder to everyone and myself that we are all responsible for the murders of trans women. We are all responsible for trans suicides. I hope that this song inspires folks to think differently about what they can do or say to impact change or increase awareness of this issue.”
In their 2016–17 collaged and Xeroxed book bricks and stone Roberts focuses on the life of Stormé DeLarverie, a lesbian drag king, bouncer, and activist born in 1920 in New Orleans to an African American mother and a white father. Though accounts from the first night of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising vary, many recollect seeing DeLarverie throw the first punch in response to police brutality, then shouting to the crowd, while in handcuffs, to take action. Roberts juxtaposes her legacy with a glaringly understated correction from the 2016 New York Times coverage of Stonewall that points to the erasure of the role of women: “there was at least one lesbian involved.” Bricks and stone features images of DeLarverie’s life, as well as of activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. There are also abstractions and responses to George Segal’s controversially tame and literally whitewashed Gay Liberation Monument (1980), sited in Christopher Park, across from the Stonewall Inn.
A speculative vision of historical figures and events, Salacia unfolds in the style of Black fantasy and folktales, such as those found in Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985). The film follows Mary Jones, a Black trans woman and sex worker who lived in SoHo in the 1830s. In the film, Jones navigates brutal systems of racism and transphobia, including incarceration at Castle Williams, located on present-day Governors Island. A meditation on the intergenerational trauma of displacement, the film begins by imagining Jones within the free Black land-owning community Seneca Village and culminates by foreshadowing the village’s destruction through eminent domain to build Central Park. In Roman mythology, Salacia is the goddess of salt water, who rules over the depths of the ocean along with her husband Neptune—a poignant reminder of the lasting impact of the transatlantic slave trade.
In Reflections, Kiyan Williams exhumes the voice of Jessie Harris, a gender-nonconforming artist, from footage cut from Marlon Riggs’s film Tongues Untied (1989). The film was heralded as a groundbreaking work of LGBTQ+ cinema for its humanizing portraits of Black gay men during the AIDS epidemic. Williams’s appropriation of Riggs’s discarded footage urges a critical consideration of the omission of gender-nonconforming people and histories from Riggs’s film, as well as more mainstream narratives. Expressing a sense of kinship with Harris, Williams activates the installation through performances in which Williams mirrors Harris’s dress and gestures.
Sasha Wortzel’s film This is an Address I considers the historical implications of a small peninsula in the Hudson River located at the end of Gansevoort Street in Manhattan, and its importance for LGBTQ+ history. Part of the original unceded territory of the Lenape until their forced exile in the 1700s, the area was later central to industrial shipping and also functioned as an epicenter for gay male life through the 1970s. It subsequently became home for a community of homeless LGBTQ+ people, many of whom were HIV-positive and who faced barriers to accessing HIV/AIDS care on the basis of having no permanent address. Wortzel juxtaposes footage of a 1995 interview with Sylvia Rivera, a prominent trans activist, and other residents of the encampment, with more recent documentation of the site and the demolition of a Department of Sanitation facility that once stood there. In this way, Wortzel considers conditions of material scarcity, gentrification, and marginalization within LGBTQ+ communities.
In This is an Address II, Wortzel turns her attention to sites throughout the Meatpacking District of New York City that were once vital social spaces for LGBTQ+ communities. From now-closed queer clubs and the piers to clothing shops that welcomed drag queens, these were once places significant for socializing, cruising, organizing, and being in community with one another. The meditative and poetic tone of the films creates an elegy for these spaces lost to gentrification and the ongoing AIDS epidemic, among other causes.
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.