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Queer Art Workers Reflect: Tenaya Izu Wants to Prioritize Narratives of Abundance Over Scarcity

LGBTQ Pride month is now. Every day in June, we are celebrating the community by featuring one queer art worker and asking them to reflect on what this moment means to them.

Artist Tenaya Izu (all images courtesy the artist)

The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them. If you identify as a queer art worker, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about how to participate. 

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What’s your name?

Tenaya Izu

Where are you based currently? 

New York City

Describe who you are and what you do.

I’m an assistant to an artist, and am an artist with both an individual and recently collaborative practice. In my own practice, I make mostly sculptures using DIY materials and ceramics as culturally specific signifiers, thinking about relationships of power, representation, and personal/collective history, often starting with the domestic space as point to explore underrepresented narratives and to create new forms of mutative, narrative relationships. I also recently started working with CFGNY, a collective which uses fashion and art as a vehicle to think about bodies, specifically with regards to queerness and the Asian diaspora. A large part of both these practices involves lots of reflection on alienation, which is very likely (haha) informed by my experiences as a trans Asian American.

Tenaya Izu, still from “Farming for Star Fragments” (2020), video, 2 minutes

Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

Coming into myself as a trans person over the past few years is something I’m massively proud of and excited about. I will hopefully never finish growing and changing, same as everyone else passing through time. It is thrilling, unearthing new parts of myself. The elation is a mix of fear, wild joy, and anticipation. Recently I’ve been taking walks. I’ve found a less frequently travelled path alongside the river, with makeshift benches to sit on hidden in the trees. I also baked cookies from scratch which is something I don’t usually do.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

Ugh, I love going to the club and dancing all night with friends and strangers, sweating and bumping into people as we groove out. Otherwise, karaoke, because it creates a similar type of joy that is amplified by shared energies feeding off each other. In both these spaces, I feel like our bodies become conduits of personas and impulses we otherwise typically have to limit or guard.

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

Cruel optimism

Tenaya Izu, “Comfort Animal” (2019), glazed stoneware, dog bed, 30 x 38 x 8 inches

Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

I live by myself. My group chat is a national treasure that makes me feel safe, sane, seen, and a lot less lonely. Working with CFGNY during this time has also helped me stay grounded. Being Asian in America is always strange, but it’s particularly stressful right now. Having strong friendships that overlap with professional life with other queer asian people has been my lifeline.

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

I will keep telling my friends that I love them, frequently, in different ways. I will continue putting money toward queer resources for survival and liberation. I will finally watch Happy Together. IDK! There’s a pandemic! Safety first! What’s the right answer? I guess that’s the point.

Tenaya Izu, “Love x Obedience // a hole” (2020), glazed ceramic, etched pewter, choke collar, wood, nail, 30 x 7 x 6 inches

Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

It would be cool if we could find ways to not feel as though queer artists and art workers are a marginal trophy or bandaid for entrenched, unchanging neoliberal agendas, nor feel the grossness of acquiescing in exchange for security. For there to be a narrative of abundance rather than scarcity of opportunities for marginalized people. The goal is not to have queer people in the same fiefdom positions that powerful non-queers hold. Support would mean non-reliance on those fiefdoms and dispersing those resources. This feels very utopian to be saying.

In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

This is very hopeful, but I hope that within this heightened wave of anti-Asian racism, (especially east), Asian Americans are able to feel solidarity within our own racial group, and with other groups of color. I hope we are able to see that the heightened xenophobia we are facing is inextricable from the heightened structural violence that black and brown people are experiencing now too, as well as outside of pandemic time, and that we can recognize how these forms of violence ultimately flow from the state. I also hope that artists and art workers can turn away from the detrimentally competitive, deadeningly professionalized track of institutional success that is fed to us as the most laudable aspiration for career desires (which typically rewards a slim predetermined category of people anyway). I hope that we can re-evaluate our relationships with institutions and engage with what that means to sustain a livelihood in the arts, especially within the changes we will see in New York City. I hope!

What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

I plan to make out with one million people at the club \( ̄▽ ̄)/

Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here

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