Art, in every of its genres and variations, has been used as a tool, not only of self-expression, but of activism.
We’re watching the evolution of art in political spaces: spoken word poetry makes its way from dark holes in the wall into mainstream media with poets being showcased on television series and late night talk shows; visual artists creating installations calling out specific social justice issues; high-profile musicians utilizing their digital and irl landscapes to bring tabooed discourse to what could otherwise be apolitical spaces.
As a queer artist of color myself, I know how important it is for me to use whatever platform I acquire access to to speak on the injustices I’ve seen and experienced, to make the lived experiences of marginalized peoples and communities visible, and to create spaces that allow for historically silenced stories to be heard.
But, sometimes, being #woke and using one’s art to wake others up can be emotionally and spiritually draining. So, it’s important to take time to make art that is cathartic, art that is about letting go and getting free.
Here are a few artists I know doing the work to not only spread awareness, but to show the world what self-love and self-care can look like.
1. Candice Iloh
A 2017 M.F.A. candidate in Writing for Young People/Poetry at Lesley University, Candice is a wordsmith whose impact knows no bounds. She is a poet, essayist, and novelist who has been published by Lambda Literary, ForHarriet, Insight Magazine. She has also performed at such acclaimed venues as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Split This Rock, Busboys and Poets, and Capturing Fire Queer Artists Showcase.
Recently, Blavity published her personal essay “Black Women’s Safety at the Barbershop: Why Accountability is Pro-Black,” which was later picked up by us here at The Body is Not an Apology. When I asked about her process, Candice told me, “I use my art to get free by using it to create space for myself and others like me.”
Check out more of Candice’s work here.
2. Roya Marsh
One of the most badass queer Black women slam poets in the scene, Roya is a force to be reckoned with. Beyond placing 2nd at the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam, she is a well of confidence that never runs dry. Her work has been featured on All Def Poetry, Blavity, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Button Poetry, and she will be representing Mental Graffiti Chicago at the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam.
In her own words, Roya is “Queer as fuck. Woman as fuck.”
Check out Roya’s finals stage performance at the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam here.
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3. Dee Rees
Screenwriter/director Dee Rees is just a multi-hit wonder. After the success of her debut film Pariah, a coming of age story about young queer women and the relationships that nurture and challenge them, she then went on to write and direct the HBO biopic Bessie, starring Queen Latifah. But what else could be expected from a graduate of NYU’s film program who worked on Spike Lee’s Inside Man and When the Levees Broke.
She even directed an episode of Empire. What’s next for Dee, you ask? She told IndieWire: “Well, currently I’m doing a miniseries for FX [A Shondaland-produced adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s 2010 book “The Warmth Of Other Suns”]. I’m also doing another adaptation of another author. So that’s two irons on the fire.”
This is a woman who loves to stay creatively busy.
4. Aurora Guerrero
After working as the Assistant Director on the 2002 Sundance Audience Award-Winning film Real Women Have Curves starring America Ferrera, Aurora made waves with her debut film Mosquita y Mari, the story of two young Chicanas living in immigrant households and the pressures of attaining the American Dream.
When asked about what inspired her to set out to be a filmmaker, Guerrero wrote, “All the work I set forth is my naked truth as a woman, a Xicana, an indigenous Mexican, a daughter of immigrants, a tough urban girl who never acquiesced to societal norms.”
5. Nao Bustamante
Internationally-known Chicana multi-media performance artist, Nao Bustamente creates experimental work that retells and reimagines femme, indigenous, Latin American history. Not only does she serve as the Vice Dean and Associate Professor for USC Roski School of Art and Design’s MFA program, but she has also performed at such acclaimed venues as at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, the New York Museum of Modern Art, Sundance International Film Festival, Outfest International Film Festival, El Museo del Barrio and the Kiasma Museum of Helsinki.
Her work screams freedom, her artistic shamelessness calls everyone to attention.
For a taste of her work, check out this video of her performance at the University of Illinois.
6. Zanele Muholi
Zanele hails from Umlazi, South Africa and has made quite the splash here in the states. Her work, deemed visual activism, has been featured at the Brooklyn Museum, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Design Indaba Conference. Muholi’s work is startling and honest, taking portraits that reveal hidden traumas and identities or accentuate the ways in which certain bodies deviate from the norm.
In an interview with The New York Times, Muholi confessed, “This is why the self-portraits are so major to me […] When I was young, I was told that I was ugly, and I had to grow up with a sense of ugliness and shame […] And I had to overcome it, because nobody can love you more than you.’’
To catch any of Zanele’s upcoming exhibitions, visit her here.
7. Adelina Anthony
Adelina Anthony is a two-spirit Xicana artist who has been wowing the world with her intersectional work for 20 years. Her credits and accomplishments include: 2015 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, 2014 Imagen Award, 2014 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive, and 2013 Sony Pictures Diversity Fellow, just to name a few. Her solo theater pieces – all of which address race, feminism, ancestry, and colonization – have graced dozens of West Coast stages.
When asked about the importance of community, Adelina told XQsi, “Art has to show our flawed and vulnerable selves, because the building of communities means embracing fallible humans.”
Up next for Adelina? Her feature film Bruising for Besos will be released in 2016.
For more about Adelina, visit her here.
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8. Jes Tom
Jes proves that it is, in fact, possible to be funny without one’s jokes being at anyone marginalized community’s expense. This Asian American, genderqueer comic has performed all over New York, including the reputable Dixon Place. What is great about Jes’ work is that, however political and radical, it leaves space for #woke folk to take a breath.
They told Project As [I] Am, “Queer of color spaces are often very heavy [..] When I perform for my own communities, I just wanna see my people laugh.”
9. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Co-founder of queer and trans people of color cabaret, Mangos With Chili, Leah is a disabled femme writer whose transformative work extends beyond performance. She is a Lambda Award-Winning author (Love Cake, Dirty River, Bodymap and Consensual Genocide), her writing has been featured in Octavia’s Brood, Bitchfest, and A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World, and she is an activist doing disability justice work.
10. Be Steadwell
With musical mastery, Be blends multiple genres to create her unique sound, which she calls “queer pop and soul.” Her artistry doesn’t stop at singing, songwriting, beatboxing, or producing, though. She is also a filmmaker; writing and directing music videos as well as feature films. Her short film, Vow of Silence, has been screened internationally and has received high praises from Blackstar Film Festival and The Paris International Lesbian & Feminist Film Festival. For more about Be, visit her here.
Tagg Magazine asked Be what she hopes to bring to the music and film industry. And, without being presumptuous of the other artists on this list’s intent, I think her answer can speak a little to what each of them wants to share with the world:
White people, generally speaking, have access to all genres, they can do folk, they can do rap, they can do hip-hop and they just have more examples of people like them being expressive and different. Whereas a young black kid who sings R&B can only imagine singing about drama and love. As opposed to the political implications of where they are. Creativity and sincerity. That’s really what I want to inspire, if I can.
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[Feature Images by Kia Chenelle Photography and Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes: Two photos side by side. The photo on the left is of Candice Iloh. She is sitting with her elbows on her knees and her hands clasped, staring back at the camera. The photo on the right is a close-up of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. She is also staring back at the camera.]