Artist KT Pe Benito (all images courtesy KT Pe Benito, photo by Lola Flash)

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?

KT Pe Benito

Where are you based currently?

Red Hook, Brooklyn, but I relocated from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

KT Pe Benito, “Entries to Faustina (Growing out of colonialism for my grandmother’s sake)” (2018), installed at Queens Museum as part of Queens International 2018: Volumes

Describe who you are and what you do.

I’m an interdisciplinary artist, arts administrator, caretaker, and collaborator.

Within this epidemic and while still recovering from eye surgery back in January, I’m focused on healing. I’m not operating at the same capacity for my practice as it was structured before, so I’m reforming and working to decenter visuality & visibility culture when so much of my training is in visual arts. I’m learning how to be accountable to my rest and absence right now and refuse the rhetoric of productivity during a pandemic.

I make artwork to sustain victim.survivor Filipinx futurity through politicizing my late Filipino grandmother’s hypothesized existence and addressing the erasure of Filipina “comfort women” who were abducted and raped in WWII.

I also make projects emphasizing the site of the kitchen as a place of identity formation, as well as cultural and community production. The through line of my work is linking daily life to structural marginalization and mapping U.S. colonization onto a queer hapa body.

Alongside all of this, I work at Queer|Art in arts administration. I feel a responsibility towards and a fulfillment from supporting other artists, just as other arts admins have supported my own creative endeavors and development as a queer artist of color.

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

In all honesty, I recently slipped into a place of feeling suicidal. I’m probably not alone in feeling this way during the pandemic. The achievement that I see in this is that I’m still here. I’m proud that I reached out to my friends and that they heard me out. They granted me the space to allow me to hear myself enough times to recognize I needed to find therapy again.

(Side note: I highly recommend Open Path Collective for sliding scale counseling, especially if you’re uninsured and must pay out of pocket.)

I’m proud that I’m in therapy. It’s helping me get to a place of stability within myself to support my community again and find my way of plugging into the work that needs to be done right now.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

As much as I love the NYC pastime of heading to Papi Juice and dancing with the spirit in a crowd of fabulous, flamboyant queer strangers and acquaintances, I truly value places where QTPoC-centered rest and joy exists: at a friend’s dinner party, in my bedroom, or venues exclusively for people of color such as metaDen.

A spread from KT Pe Benito’s “5 Things About Your KT Pe Benito” (2019), an autobiographical collage booklet

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

Who is being shuffled further into the margins? This pandemic is exacerbating the oppressions that existed WELL before this pathogen reached the states. I’m thinking about how many more people are finally wielding what privileges and resources they have in order to rupture fascism.

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’ve got a core group of friends who have seen me through the hardest moments in my life (including a recent bout of suicide ideation) and multiple artmaking crises — Emilio Martinez Poppe, Joselia Hughes, Vanessa Leiva Santos, and Minh Bui to name a few.

The people who are seeing me through now are my Queer|Art coworkers, Rio Sofia, Nile Harris, greer x, and Travis Chamberlain, making space in weekly check-ins to share how we’re being impacted and how to make adjustments to our working-from-home lives to accommodate our wellbeing. Grace Joshua Byron is also holding a lot of space for me as my roommate, a dear nonbinary peer, and friend.

Shout out to Cloud9 Support, founded by members of B.U.F.U. (By Us For Us) and YJC (Yellow Jackets Collective). Back in March, they turned out community programming immediately and they’ve continued to compile resources on their website for mutual aid.

Shout out to Body Hack for turning out a marathon trans/non-binary fundraiser DJ dance party, raising $11,111 in their first party for trans and sex work organizations: For The Gworls (NYC), Women With A Vision’s Sex Worker Fund (New Orleans), and Centro de Apoyo a Identidades Trans (CDMX).

Shout out to Dance Union for listening to dancemakers, responding through their podcast series & starting an NYC Dancers Relief Fund for COVID-19, providing mental health aid resources, and still holding white supremacy accountable during this time.

Keep donating to all of these phenomenal sources of mutual aid. They’re run by queer artists, organizers, and culture makers.

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

I’m figuring out how to celebrate those who came into their gender and/or their sexual identities this past year.

My first Pride parade as a 16-year-old bisexual meant a lot to me, as corny and corporate as it was. But it was also 2010 Pride in San Francisco, the year when Proposition 8 was ruled as unconstitutional, so it truly was a politically charged, celebratory moment.

I hope to find the solutions in this time where everyone can have pride in who they are and their truth. Online organizing? Digital sex dance parties? Wheat pasting tangible reminders that we’re still here and queer and dismantling heterosexual white supremacy? But maybe it’ll just be as simple as lighting a candle and welcoming them to the family.

On a more concrete note, I’m also organizing this Pride Month through Queer|Art|Pride. There’s going to be a series of virtual open workspaces for participants to arrive and engage in activist art-making, including protest signs, information/resource design slides, and memorial portraits to make space for the Black Lives Matter movement. Even in quarantine and social distancing, there needs to be safe, collaborative spaces for the community to create and share work that will sustain protest and organizing efforts.

KT Pe Benito

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

Right now or as always? I know there are more ways that queer artists and art workers struggle with positive online affect, especially during a pandemic. Where are the spaces to hold conflict within our communities or in our relationships when we’re all experiencing a constant state of internal crisis or external disappointment in our government?

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

Space to dream. I’m getting the sense that we’re not allowing ourselves the time to detach from our external de/vices collectively, turn inward, and honor the process needed to conceive of the lifelong work that needs to happen. It’s more like handfuls of people at a time take a detox period from screens or social media, but promise to return at some point. I understand that external validation and connection is needed in coping processes (because the everyday requires coping if you carry past trauma and are witnessing the present infliction of trauma in this country).

What I really want to see shift is a divestment from Instagram. As much as it feels like the convenient, catch-all social media platform (a digital business card, a newsletter, a signal boost station, a place to be with friends, a portfolio), I feel the need to emphasize a “fuck you” to the platform for censoring of our bodies, our archives, our activisms, and our art. As much as it’s pushed along our conceptions of representation, it’s not sustainable nor radical for our bodies and identities.

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

Run all the way to Baltimore from New York City to hug my friend Emilio Martinez Poppe.

Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here

Editor’s note (6/12/20, 9:46 pm EDT): this article has been updated to include more detailed captions from the artist and further details concerning Queer|Art|Pride. 

Dessane Lopez Cassell is a New York based editor, writer, and film curator, as well as the former reviews editor at Hyperallergic. You can follow her work here.