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Queer Art Workers Reflect: Anaïs Duplan On “Becoming a Better Lover”—Not Just in a Romantic Sense

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.

Poet, artist, and administrator Anaïs Duplan (all images courtesy Anaïs Duplan; photo by Walid Mohanna)

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?

Anaïs Duplan

Where are you based currently? 

Brooklyn, NY

Describe who you are and what you do.

I’m a poet, video artist, arts administrator, and teacher. I received my MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2017. I’m also the author of a full length collection of poetry, Take This Stallion (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016), two poetry chapbooks, Mount Carmel and the Blood of Parnassus (Monster House Press, 2017) and 9 Poems/The Lovers (Belladonna*, 2018), and most recently a book of essays, poems, and interviews called Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture (Black Ocean, 2020). I’m the founder an artist residency program called the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, which is based in Iowa City. I’m also an adjunct poetry professor at Columbia University and St. Joseph’s College. I currently work as Program Manager at Recess.

Artist Sonya Dyer participating in “Dark Fecundity,” an artist talk presented as part of her November 2018 residency at the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, Iowa City

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

Lately, I’m very proud of the Center for Afrofuturist Studies. We’re coming up on five years, which feels crazy to say. We’ve always been very true to our DIY, people-centered, artist-run values. We’ve been lucky in the last few years to receive support from the local and national community, which has allowed us to not just continue our work but to thrive. I’m grateful for the team we’ve cultivated and the amazing artists (my personal heroes, really) we’ve been able to work with.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

As a queer trans man, my favorite ways to celebrate my queerness is just by living unafraid to be who I am in a visible way. I’m grateful to have an arts career; this gives me some visibility, a platform that I can then use to give visibility to other QTPOC. It’s my professional commitment to uplift the work being done by other QTPOC artists and to provide them support that other, more privileged communities find it easier to come by. I do believe friendship is radical and that love is more than a feeling — it’s a way. So, moving in the way of love in my personal and professional spheres and making sure that my work is always leading back to other people of color is how I celebrate community.

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

How Black people have survived for so long. A lot of people’s white friends are checking in on them right now, asking how we are. I’m not alone in finding it infuriating, because we’ve persisted for so long without that kind of support and now, to try to respond to it feels like another form of labor being asked by white people from us. So my own wellness practices, really clarifying what my values are, and putting my energy into my health and the health of my community — rather than trying to appease white people who are feeling a sense of fragility right now — is top of mind.

Moments from a program presented as part of the “Black Curators’ Roundtable” at the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, October 2019 (left to right: Joyce Tsai, Chief Curator at the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Eileen Isagon Skyers, Anaïs Duplan, and Gee Wesley)

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’m an arts worker so a lot of my queer community are other QTPOC arts workers I’ve met over the years, who work across a series of art institutions in New York. We’re consistently facing similar challenges, as we try to honor and protect our labor in settings that are eager to drain our resources.

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

By becoming a better lover. Not just in a romantic sense, but really revisiting my philosophy of love, the way I love, and giving that love to the other beautiful queers in my life. That, to me, is the best kind of celebration: cultivated intimacy. Intimacy that you’ve worked hard for! Not just during Pride Month!

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

Oh my god, absolutely. I think institutions should do better at foregrounding the work that art workers of color do — both to non-POC staff and to the public. I think they should also make sure not to tokenize these workers or ask them to do the work of making an institution anti-racist. Institutions should commit to doing that work on their own. For organizations that work with artists, if by now you haven’t achieved equity in terms of the artists you’re working with––well, I have nothing to say about that! But again, here, not exploiting people, not virtue signaling, but instead making a really concerted effort to change.

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

I hope to see more and more embracing of intersectionality. We’re lucky to live in New York, I think, because there’s more intersectionality happening here, but I’d love for my trans circles to be more connected to my queer circles and for those circles to be more connected to my POC circles and for all those circles to be fully represented in the arts sector. Better and better integration of communities, better feedback systems between these communities.

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

Hug people! Hug a lot of people.

Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here.

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