“The shortest statement of philosophy I have is my living, or the word ‘I.’” —Audre Lorde
As an artist, I find that the most direct reflection of my identity can be found in my art. Whether that art is about me or not, it is drawn from me and consistently, in some way, reflects who I am. Identity and how a person identifies is more than just personal — if that person chooses for it to be so, it can be political. But identity, for me, has been more than an internal struggle; it has also been a struggle of what the world dictates you are. When you are presented with one perspective, that is often the only perspective there is. Even growing up in a time when there is so much at our fingertips, it is easy to find ways to tune out the noise and only take in what is in front of you.
As a young artist, my biggest concern is not filtering my art. Creating without perceived borders or limits. As an even younger artist, my biggest concern was what other people thought of my art. My biggest influence as that artist was my interactions with other artists like me — eeing their art and having them affirm mine.
When your peers affirm your art, they also affirm your identity. And while I am confident and comfortable in my identity now, I wasn’t always. In my most recent film, “Don’t Touch Me,” the character I played in the film identified as non-binary. The film focused on Jay, my character, who was finding out that they were demisexual. These identifications, both demisexual and non-binary, felt and sounded like me, but it was only on screen that I was able to ease into those identities and tell my story. I didn’t realize I was using this film as a stepping stone, but looking back it was a major moment in my life as an artist and as a queer person. I can explore myself in my art. Having a community of queer and POC (People of Color) artists that support that is incredibly important to making sure more queer and POC artists can have their voices heard.
In the undergraduate film program at Michigan State University, many of my classmates were cis and many of my classmates were white men. This made getting constructive and meaningful feedback on queer films difficult. Many of their questions had to with concepts I had already assumed and explored. It wasn’t until my senior year, when I was making “Don’t Touch Me,” that I received feedback that I felt was truly helpful. I was given the opportunity to present my film to a group of queer students and faculty at Michigan State at a symposium called “Queer Conversations.” It was here that, for the first time, I felt the things my classmates would take time to understand were openly accepted. This allowed us common ground to discuss the technical and creative ways I was exploring these concepts. It was also the first time I had shown any work to a completely queer audience. While I don’t blame my classmates for their lack of interest in gender and sexuality, it was an incredible experience to be able to talk to queers about this queer-ass movie. It was affirming and exhilarating. It is this kind of networking and collaboration that inspires young artists to keep creating.
These artists and teachers helped me connect with an identity that grounded me. When your experience is never talked about, it is easy to assume it does not exist. I didn’t realize there were other queer people of color making art about themselves. I didn’t realize it was something I could do until I saw someone else doing it. Having a community of artists that I feel a part of is, at times, as important as creating that art. It gives me the power to go on when things feel bleak. Sometimes it feels like creating art isn’t fighting at all. But when I see my mentors and peers fighting the same fight by simply existing, it inspires me to not give up.
That’s why starting the Nameless Collective in Lansing was a huge moment in my art community. At Nameless Collective, we have hosted numerous events that feature art from local and national artists, with the main goal being raising the voices of marginalized artists. All it took was one person sending a message to other queer and POC artists. We found solace in each other and in the things we cared about. We not only sought to raise up other marginalized artists, but also each other. At our first event, “Art Grl Starter Pack” we featured the art of women, non-binary folks, of all backgrounds and colors. Artists local and beyond. While Nameless made the event, it was the support of the community and each other that made it magical. Support and community has made projects that I didn’t even know were possible, possible. Having a community of artists who you affirm and affirm you, is, without a doubt, the most valuable truth I have found as an artist.