Meet our 2014 Fellows!
Please tell us of an artist, curator, activist, or project that has influenced you or inspired you.
I gain inspiration from the vanguard filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs (1957-1994). The prolific Riggs was a cultural worker, cultural agitator, professor, media activist, award winning filmmaker, and writer. Riggs films and writings are known for interrogating and confronting racism, sexism, homophobia, censorship and internalized white supremacy. Within his regrettably short life, Riggs was able to write, direct and produce eight celebrated and groundbreaking films. If I could speak with Riggs today it would be an honor to gleam insight on crafting lyrical & political documentaries and how he became a courageous human being.
Tongues Untied is one of his innovative films with relevancy in the 21st century. This film has left a deep impact on society and myself. The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes that human rights are inherent to all and a global concern. Tongues Untied utilizes performance art, reenactments, and poetry to explore the world of Queer men of color. The film questions the availability of Human Rights to Queer Men of Color. This inventive film exposes the political and social ramifications of racism/homophobia on the mental/emotional/spiritual lives of Queer men of color. Tongues Untied explores the themes of sexuality, masculinity, gender identity, spirituality, and the constructed/ exploited race of African-Americans by mass media. What was and continues to be revolutionary about this film is unabashed portrayal of Black men loving Black men. Black gay men were claiming their voice and lives as who they are in a world that marginalizes, silences and makes them invisible. Riggs dismantles the notion of didactic storytelling to create this film. Tongues Untied is a testament to power, value, love, visibility that continues to be a tool for social justice and self-acceptance 25 years after its creation.
His tremendous work, artistry, worldview, contributions to the film industry and society pushes me to be a better filmmaker. My films rewrite visual style and evoke a dialogue between technology, class, gender and language. Riggs inspires me to tell stories of people often left invisible and voiceless. My films have the voiceless speak loudly about their lives, their future and their rituals. My current project experiment with ritual, the erotic, and gender representation through indigenous Yorùbá spirituality. The film will transform and re-appropriate mythology and desire for Queer People Of Color (QPOC) ritualistically into images of our own creation for survival; because spirit demands our participant contrary to anti-gay/ homophobic creation stories.
Riggs works continues to be used as a blue print to liberate communities of color. In spite of being attacked by white arch-conservatives, religious fundamentalist, the left and closeted homophobes, Riggs was able to use his visual language and verbal discourse to create space and power for community.
My work is because of the legacy of Marlon T. Riggs.
Please tell us about a place in your neighborhood that is personally meaningful to you, and why?
My heart goes wild for the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!), which is an innovative organization that impacts the world beyond dance. BAAD! transforms the realm of art with their social justice vision in the Bronx. Queers, Transgender folks, Womyn of Color, People of Color, young people, elders and first time artist have agency to be themselves, to create and organize. There isn’t a separation of the arts on stage and the desires of the community. Community dialogues are held in the space, community residents are given a safe space to be after school or on weekends to be free from violence.
This vital and energetic space is a cultural anchor in the Bronx. Recently displaced from Hunts point because of gentrification BAAD! has relocated to the Westchester Square area of the Bronx to continue as a strong hold for community and artist. For 14 years they contributed to moving the Hunts Point area of the South Bronx to its next level as an arts and entertainment district.
I believe BAAD! is a sacred space that shapes the culture and space of the Bronx. BAAD! is personally meaningful because of my community work and artistry. As a leader at Casa Atabex Aché – The House of Womyn’s Power our participants and numerous other non-profits benefited from the space through workshops, performances, and art as activism. We conducted healing, art and organizing workshops for community and artist of BAAD! BAAD! has nurtured my filmmaking and performance art through screening my films and providing opportunities for me to perform. Before I stepped on stage/screen BAAD! had welcomed me into their family with an open space for me to witness art and build community. BAAD! has supported me in actualizing myself as a professional artist.
I’ve seen the good of BAAD! in myself and the world.
What is your favorite book, film or song about NYC?
One of my favorite documentaries concerning NYC is “It Took 50 Years: Frances Goldin and The Struggle For Cooper Sq.” Directed by Ryan Joseph and Dave Powell. The feature-length documentary reminds you community voice; action and women can win against giants.
Robert Moses was New York City’s “Master Builder”, a force of nature that transformed the built environment and the lives of millions of New Yorkers. When Moses came to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1959, he intended to level the area known as “Cooper Square” in the name of urban renewal. Little did Moses know that he would meet his match in the Cooper Square Committee (CSC) and in Frances Goldin, the committee’s tenacious co-founder.
The CSC and its multi-ethnic motley crew of radicals, shopkeepers, artists and housewives were different than other organizations that had fought urban renewal. Using an innovative mix of community organizing and urban planning, the Committee not only opposed the Moses plan but emerged with it’s own: The Alternate Plan for Cooper Square. The guiding principle of the plan was that urban renewal should benefit, not displace, existing residents of Cooper Square.
It Took 50 Years… is the story of a community that waged an epic battle of self-preservation, and of a remarkable woman who refused to quit.
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