The month of June is a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community and reflect on the advances of queer people to strengthen civil liberties around the world, even in a moment of great political uncertainty. It’s also a good opportunity to spotlight the richness and diversity of culture we have within the community. Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one contemporary queer artist per day on the website and letting them speak for themselves. Click here to participate.

Denise R. Duarte

Age: 59

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Artistic Medium: Multidisciplinary and Socially-Engaged

Who are you and what do you do?

I am a multidisciplinary, socially-engaged artist and an activist. My studio practice focuses on three areas: gender, LGBTQ and the environment. My work “Unraveling Identity” is about reframing dialogue about human sexuality and gender identity using the botanical world as a metaphor. The botanical definition of the “Perfect or Complete Flower” is one which contains both male and female parts.

The most complex and luscious blooms are usually perfect flowers, such as the rose. My work describes and contrasts the varieties of botanical sexuality to humanity’s narrow definitions of gender and sexuality. I think that the definition of “natural” is a constructed norm, which defies beauty in the human experience. In the plant world and elsewhere in nature, reproduction and gender are varied and often fluid. Some plants even change from male to female (or vice-versa) over the plant’s lifetime. My feminist series explores the socio-historical influences on beliefs and behaviors with regard to contemporary gender issues.

My Terra series, for example, looks at the relationship between water, land use and human impact upon the earth. The conceptual basis for my artwork advances further exploration of these issues through socially-engaged work with communities to create artwork that not only enhances their lives, but also the greater population. Issue-based work allows for communities to articulate their perspective(s), which provides opportunities for them to become their own agent of change.

What are the top three greatest influences on your work?

My lifelong passions are the greatest influences: art, activism and an exploration of the social fabric of life.

Describe your coffee order.

Hot and unadulterated.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

My greatest accomplishment was founding Equality Days in 2009, the first officially recognized day by the Nevada Legislature for the LGBTQ community. Equality Days and the resulting LGBTQ organizing was a major influence for the passage of Senate Bill 283, Nevada’s Domestic Partnership bill, which provided everyone in the state with rights, protections and responsibilities gained through marriage — with only one exception: insurance coverage.

As chairperson of Stand OUT For Equality, the advocacy arm of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, I initiated the Nevada LGBTQI Leadership Coalition in 2009, which worked for two years to support the transgender community’s successful gender identity and expression legislation (ENDA, Public Accommodations and Housing) at Nevada’s 2011 Legislative session.

While I was living in Baltimore working on my masters, I established the Pride Center of Maryland’s LGBT History and Archives Project, which included organizing and protecting 35 years of back issues of GayLife, one of the oldest, continuously published LGBTQ newspapers in the country.

Recently, I cowrote with my spouse, Dr. Marlene Adrian, the inaugural Gaming Gender Equality Index, a report revealing the results of a survey of 21 casino and gaming corporations, which was conducted to assess their policies, practices, and commitment to gender equality.

What constitutes a perfect day?

Any day I can work in the studio that is punctuated with time in the garden, good discussions with my spouse, and playing with my dog. That is a dream day.

What was your favorite exhibition from last year?

I am not sure which was my favorite. I simply love contemporary art.

What would your superpower be if you had one?

I would love to dismantle the hierarchies that negatively impact lives.

Tell us a lie about yourself.

I love the current state of politics.

What is one question you wish somebody would ask about your work?

What are you planning on creating next?

What is the greatest threat to humanity?


What did you make when you first started making art?

I initially studied to be a figurative sculptor.

Do you prefer spilling the tea or throwing shade?


What is your all-time favorite work of art?

I cannot choose! I have so many favorites.

What are your plans for pride month?

I am celebrating by giving artist talks at my solo exhibition Unraveling Identity. My goal is to engage as many people as possible with the message that nature thrives on sexual and gender diversity. Nature is not defined by binary standards, which defy the potential and beauty of the human experience.

What is the future of queerness?

The dominant culture realizes that they are on the spectrum and if they had not been socialized to be only straight and cisgender, they might be happier.

Back in my day…

We ran free. We were not encumbered with cellphones. It felt as if the world was ours and we had all the time in the world.

Name one guilty pleasure.

My greatest guilty pleasure is chocolate!

Greatest queer icon of the internet: BabadookMomo, or a pervading sense of existential angst?

A pervading sense of existential angst.

Is there enough support for queer artists where you live?

I honestly do not know how to answer that, but I do not think my local art community differentiates between straight, cisgender artists, and queer artists with regards to support.

How do you stay cool during the summer?

We have air-conditioning and solar panels which make it affordable!

What is your favorite type of milk?

Almond milk for me!

“Queer Artists in Their Own Words” is an ongoing feature happening every day in the month of June. For prior posts in the series, please click here.

Zachary Small was a writer at Hyperallergic.