“Like [Audre] Lorde, I don’t write to receive pity or an apology for the hurts imposed upon me. I write to speak up, to acknowledge the devastation wrought among us when a human life is omitted in the midst of humanity and treated as less than a treasure amid life in general.” – Zenju Earthlyn Manuel The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender
My work is primarily mixed-media arts combining text/poetry, collage or transferred images, paint, fiber arts, and beadwork, with a use of found and repurposed items. The work explores themes of love, gender, motherhood, spirituality, sexuality, history, bodies, borders, culture, privilege and oppression, abuse, freedom and revolution – and how all of these are interconnected. I am inspired by Indigenous peoples, diasporic communities of color, spirituality and textiles from around the world, and being a part of cultural preservation by keeping my Indigenous-Black ancestral traditions alive and passing them on to new generations.
My own identities and cultures directly impact all of my work, which includes visual art, cultural critique, writing, editing, poetry, and other consulting. Along with my ethnic identity comes complex spiritual identity, and I am also Queer (Two-Spirit, non-binary gender, and bi/pansexual) and Crip/Sick/Mad (Disabled, chronically ill, and with mental illness), which are their own cultures. My identities combine to form whole new cultures informed and building upon each other, because as Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” All of the various pieces of me directly inform and impact the other pieces, and naturally that means they also inform my work, including where I focus and prioritize my research, how I incorporate traditions into my artistic practice, and what stories I am most concerned with telling.
Outside of art, but also informing my art, I am deeply invested in an intersectional analysis of life. This includes racial justice, LGBTQ issues, disability matters, and reproductive justice. Before enrolling in KCAD for Art History, I trained as a doula with the goal of making the use of pregnancy/childbirth/postpartum doula care more accessible and culturally competent for marginalized communities including women of color, lesbian/gay, and transgender/genderqueer families, as well as providing in depth support for survivors with a history of sexual assault/trauma. During that time, my writing and art were impacted by that training and I began producing more work around the issues of trauma, particularly sexual assault survival, healing, and self-care. Referencing queer and women of color ancestors in particular, I draw from historical and contemporary visions of revolutionary love and community building. While I do not provide birth/postpartum doula services due to the limits caused by my disabilities/illnesses, I would still like to work as a death doula at some point, supporting people during their last days and transitions from this world, and helping them to go peacefully while incorporating traditional cultural practices.
As an artist and art historian, I see myself as a culture critic and bridge. Art has an important role and responsibility to be at the forefront of addressing social needs and change. To that end, my reading is quite eclectic and broad. I utilize Instagram, Hyperallergic, Art21, Al-Jazeera, Telesur, and a wide variety of other media to stay on top of not only art matters but world and community matters. I also pay attention to local arts and culture sources such as the H.A.C.K. blog and the former writing of Cultured.GR. I do not necessarily see a separation between art-related matters and larger cultural issues. I believe that art is and should be informed by those matters, and helps to inform those matters at the same time. I am intrigued by the way social media has changed how stories are produced and reported, and the way that individual people in communities are able to tell their own stories via tweets, poetry, photographs, and more, in real time. My own work is greatly informed by thinking about these issues and seeing how other artists are tackling timely topics. I also enjoy attending art shows and galleries when they are quiet so that I am able to look at the art for as long as I wish, trying to learn something of the techniques used. I am fascinated by documentary films and biographies about a variety of types of artists and writers that allow them to speak about their work and also include others talking about how they relate to the artist and the work. I’m deeply interested in self-produced narratives and uncovering of lost histories.
I am a self-taught artist, happy in my “folk” or “primitive” state as I feel that my work is infused with my cultures and soul. I most appreciate the work of other folk and self-taught artists who are willing to experiment with technique and materials in new ways. My own work began to take on more dramatic experimentation under a recent five year mentorship by a well-known local artist. Although that relationship has since dissolved, my work and access to appropriate tools and insight is forever improved and evolving because of it. Frida Kahlo is, perhaps, my main inspiration towards being an artist. I relate to the way she challenged gender roles, and embraced her sexuality and disability while also being deeply political and infusing her self-taught art with all of those issues. Other favorites include Le’Andra LeSeur, Adrian Piper, Mickalene Thomas, Mario Moore, Christi Belcourt, Dylan Miner, Roberto Diago, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Judith Scott, Carrie Mae Weems, and more. I love noticing and exploring how artists produce conversations with other artists and art methods through their art, and how recontextualizing, reclaiming, and critiquing of past art, symbolism, and imagery builds new understandings both between artists themselves and with audiences.
Because I came to art originally as a writer and poet, my experience in writing and research is much more significant than as a visual artist. I continue to write about a variety of issues not limited to art, but broader cultural analysis that is also informed by the role I see arts playing in our society. In this way I see my research and writing as being informed by art, and my art to be informed by research and writing both by myself and others. My goal during my undergraduate education in Art History was to improve my ability to wed those two sides of my skills and interests, and to gain the academic knowledge base necessary to properly integrate them. One of my particular areas of interest is in creating accessible and truly inclusive spaces, in a broad sense of those terms – relating to disability, body diversity, race, socio-economic class, education level, and more. I am concerned with how traditional and non-traditional art spaces welcome, gate-keep, and exile different parts of the community from participation, and in challenging that tendency.
I look forward to the ways that increased knowledge of art history and visual and critical studies can deepen my own work and how it connects to ancestral knowledge and cultural connections, as well as how looking at visual culture can be understood in part through an art historical lens. As an adult student, this work is greatly about bringing my life experience and work into a more academic realm that prepares me to discuss the roles and purposes of art in contemporary society and the future. I see my primary academic role as being about bringing to light unknown and forgotten Disabled, Queer, artists of color and women artists. I graduated in spring 2019 from Kendall College of Art & Design (KCAD) with a major in academic art history and minors in general education and museum studies. I am currently in the Masters of Visual & Critical Studies program at Kendall College of Art & Design (KCAD) with a full fellowship. In fall 2020 I will be engaged with my final year working on my MA thesis that considers the ethics of representation of disability in art and visual culture.
Links to my published writing about art can be viewed here.
- Gallery Assistant at Fed Galleries @ KCAD – Due to the evolution of my disabilities, I am doing less of the manual labor associated with this job, but contributing more towards the research, writing, and editing of statements/labels and various other needed tasks. I provided significant research and writing for Society of Spectacle (2017) and Selling Sexism (2019-20) exhibitions.
- Freelance Consultant, Editor, Writer – I have provided freelance editing to clients, including Fitra Journal and The Lifestyle Magazine, sensitivity readings for LGBTQ+ and disability/neurodiversity matters, and have provided research/writing for other galleries/museums, such as the US IS THEM (2017) and A Beautiful Struggle (2020) exhibitions at the UICA. At present I am the copyeditor for the upcoming Impractical Spaces publication, the Grand Rapids edition of Archive of Defunct Artist-Run Spaces. I have previously provided research, writing, and administrative work for the Kent County I-BOND Fund; advising to the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network; administrative support to the Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives; administrative support to the Art History department at KCAD; accessibility consulting to DisArt; and event coordination support on the Avenue For The Arts. I am a former board member of Arts in Motion Studio and assisted with event programming for them from 2014-2016. I occasionally am able to write for publication as well and am a semi-regular contributor to West Michigan arts website H.A.C.K.
- Student representative to the KCAD Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Advisory Committee.
- Representative to the TGNC Committee, a partnership between Grand Rapids Trans Foundation and Grand Rapids Pride Center to produce programing and events for the local trans community, as well as provide advising to local organizations on how to better serve and support trans and gender non-conforming individuals.
- Accessibility Coordinator for the 2020 Pride Festival, put on by the Grand Rapids Pride Center. Although the festival has since been canceled, I continue to provide advising to the agency on disability and accessibility measures and will be involved in planning for the 2021 festival.