Radical Queer Histories
Radical Queer Histories
In the annals of history, the private lives of individuals often remain elusive, obscured by the dominant narratives of birth, marriage, and death that are deeply entwined with heterosexual norms. For those who identify as LGBTQ+, the challenge of preserving their personal histories is compounded by the erasure or redaction of their experiences from both the family tree and the broader historical record. This erasure is often a defensive act, driven by the fear of public ridicule or criminal prosecution in most if not all societies, which have historically marginalized and persecuted queer individuals. Consequently, LGBTQ+ people are seldom afforded the privilege of exploring their own lives through the lens of queer history. Their diaries and life’s work frequently pass into the hands of descendants or executors who, in their attempts to conform to societal norms, edit out the unvarnished details that reveal the richness of these private worlds. The puritanical thread that weaves through many cultures worldwide often discourages the recording of any details deemed “unrespectable.” It is, indeed, a testament to resilience that some queer people muster the courage to write revealing diaries and letters, documents that may not only bear witness to their experiences but also endure long after their authors have passed.
It was against this backdrop of historical invisibility and erasure that I embarked on the Bloodlines project. The journey began with a simple yet profound question that arose during a conversation with my mother and an aunt. I had come across a beautiful drawing of Cousin Sadie, a cousin of my maternal grandfather, and was curious about the artist, Moira. My aunt mentioned that Moira had lived with Sadie in a house they built together along the shores of Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. My mother recalled visiting them as a child, her father ensuring they had enough firewood to keep warm during the harsh winters but when they arrived, the wood pile was well stocked for a long winter. Sadie, a self-sufficient woman had chopped her own wood, dug her own well, fished and hunted for her dinner. She struck me as a remarkable figure. In a moment of curiosity and reflection, I wondered aloud whether Sadie and Moira might have been lesbian lovers. My aunt chuckled, but my mother’s response was devoid of levity. She met my speculation with a raised eyebrow and a stern declaration: “It’s not all about you. Not everyone is gay. No, absolutely not, Sadie was not a lesbian.” Her unequivocal response left me with lingering doubts. It brought back memories of countless hours spent in art school lecture halls where my homophobic professor ridiculed the effeminate contrapposto stance of Donatello’s David sculpture or no reference at all to the homosexuality of historical figures like Michelangelo Buonarotti, and Leonardo Da Vinci, et al. I couldn’t help but wonder if my own life, and that of my husband, would leave any trace in our family trees or if we, like Moira and Sadie, would be erased and forgotten.
In response to this sense of invisibility, I embarked on the Bloodlines project as a creative endeavor to reintroduce queer individuals into my family tree. Even when historical records offer no direct evidence of our existence, I aimed to reimagine their lives as courageous, radical, humorous, and audacious. Bloodlines weaves together a tapestry of individual images, sculptural objects, costumes, photographs, music, and drawings, all intricately intertwined with the captivating narratives of two remarkable queer revolutionaries: Isabela and Frederick. These ancestral figures, drawn from my husband’s and my own family histories, serve as the foundation of this artistic exploration. The histories of LGBTQ+ people have often been ignored, omitted, or simply forgotten. In response, this endeavor delves deep into the concept of historical erasure, boldly reimagining Isabela and Frederick—based on real-life ancestors—as fearless gay and lesbian radical revolutionaries. Isabela’s journey takes us to the Dominican Republic, where she fearlessly fought against the oppressive regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo. In contrast, Frederick’s story unfolds in the heart of Flatbush, Brooklyn, and across the Delaware where he stood alongside George Washington in the fight against the British during the American Revolutionary War. Through the Bloodlines project, we confront the profound concept of historical invisibility, bringing to life the untold stories of the queer and peculiar through images and artifacts that attempt to trace the lives of people who resist erasure and reclaim their rightful place in the grand tapestry of our shared past.
In order to create a world for these characters, I decided to create historical fictions about them, which lead me to creating objects and images as evidence of their lives. Set in the American landscape of revolution, Bloodlines explores miraculous and mundane secret human histories, folklore, incantations and peculiar anachronisms to tell stories about heroic “spinsters” and radical “bachelors.” I began by writing character studies loosely based on a man named Frederick, an American revolutionary hero from Flatbush, Brooklyn and a woman, guerilla fighter from the Dominican Republic who fought the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Both of these personae were derived respectively from my and my husband’s family trees.
A Cabinet of Curiosities
I have created taxonomies of heirlooms, objects and images as evidence of revisionist histories. Each artifact serves as a testament and contrivance of and to their lives. Through drawing, and printmaking began this project by creating a taxonomy of images of Molotov cocktails, guns, food, wine, plantains, a goat, picketers and protests; ink wells, time bombs, costumes, little tokens of lives lived. Using photography and installation I’ve staged scenarios peopled with these objects, garments and images. All of these things compile to create the evidence of lives and an opportunity to subvert the historical narrative. These collections create a wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities of secrets and stories; an invitation to explore and find ourselves within them.
These revised histories were shared with artesian collaborators including a bespoke Panamanian tailor, a DJ, a fashion designer, a fashion photographer and a curator, who then worked with me to create clothing, musical play-lists, editorial photo-shoots, printed images, ceramic and mixed media sculptural objects all of which are presented as heirloom like artifacts. The stories serve as a departure point to the creative enterprise of collaborating to make objects and images; accouterments specific to the personas’ lives.
Project participants include: Andrew Cornell Robinson, Sigfrido Holguin, Alva CalyMayor, Michael Chiabaudo, Tony Mi Montuno, and DJ Matt Lament