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Queer Art Workers Reflect: Lola Flash Questions Why Folks Are “Forgetting” Tony McDade and Nina Pop

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 and activist Lola Flash (all images courtesy 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?

Lola Flash

Where are you based currently? 

New York

Describe who you are and what you do.

Working at the forefront of genderqueer visual politics for more than three decades, my photography challenges stereotypes and gender, and sexual and racial preconceptions. My art and activism are profoundly connected, fueling a life-long commitment to visibility and preserving the legacy of LGBTQIA+ and communities of color worldwide. My practice is firmly rooted in social justice advocacy around sexual, racial, and cultural difference.

Lola Flash, “syzygy (Grand Central)”

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

I am super proud that I have been able to constantly create iconic work that speaks to seminal issues in my communities. Most recently, I started a new series, that considers Afrofuturism. In this self-portrait series, entitled Syzygy, the vision, I am observing the straight-line configuration of our pasts, presents and futures. This multidimensional contemplation considers the vast layers of intersectional disadvantages, cultural conflicts, and unsettling legacies. Heavy on my mind is the horror of America’s mass incarceration and the question of breaking free. Can our truth-seekers lead us to the place where we become superhuman, shedding our Black bodies [plagued by] institutional “isms”? My soul is hopeful for a divine future where we are finally able to run far away from hashtag chatter and into a narrative of pure joy.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

As a life-long activist, I wake up every morning, with a fist in the air and say “Let’s do this!” But on a more personal and social note, I have recently fallen happily IN LOVE, and take pride in strolling along the streets holding my partner’s hand or grabbing a kiss, when I can. As you must remember, for the queer community, a mere KISS is an act of revolution!

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

Phew… I am super immersed in the tipping [point] of the Black Lives Matter movement (and of course other long-standing organizations), which Mr. George Floyd‘s killing by four police officers has [reinvigorated]. I had been photographing the still, quiet island of Manhattan, due to COVID-19 — then all h*ll broke out! My emotions, like many of us, are mixed. I go from sad to furious on any given day. I am energized to see so many young people engrossed in peaceful protest. As a member of ACT UP during the AIDS crisis, it reminds me of the strategies and demos that we navigated to make our agenda heard. Yet, I am questioning so much. Why are so many white people just realizing they have white privilege? Why are Black people posting about the deaths of Mr. Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but “forgetting” to mention our queer fam such as Tony McDade and Nina Pop? How can we break this institutional and systematic racism, so that in another 40 years, we don’t find ourselves in the very same situation?

Alas, as a black queer female-centered person, I only know that after spending so many decades as an “invisible pervert,” I have hope. Hope that has been passed down from my ancestors, and just as they kept their vision of freedom, so shall I!

Lola Flash, “Legends (triptych)” [from left to right: Lina Bradford, Cheryl Dunye, and Paul E. Alexander]
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.)

My support systems are vast and stretch across the world. As I age, I realize how and why I have been able to sustain the good fight. It is because of my peeps. They are too many to list here, but they know who they are. Some are dead and others are very much alive. They range in age from 103 downwards, and are a mixed bag of queer, straight, bi, and a very beautiful spectrum of color. We do not always agree with each other, but for the most part, work towards engaging in healthy discussions, and sometimes just “agree to disagree.”

I would also like to shout out one of the organizations which I joined last year, as a MentorQueer|Art. I am the proud mentor of Felli Maynard, and this relationship has been unimaginable; please look them up! In addition to the Queer|Art Mentorship program, there are many ways that Q|A supports queer artists. At present we have created a “Call for Action and Accountability.” If you are reading this and want to know about immediate and powerful ways to deconstruct racism please have a look at the website.

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

Gosh, can’t really say that I have given this much thought. Denial is another emotion, running deep, these days. I will definitely say that I will miss sashaying around the village in my super cute Pride outfit. I am sure my friend Afua will most likely host a Zoom party. Normally, we all end up at her place, since she lives in the West Village and also has a rooftop, so we can check out the fireworks. Afua has managed to keep us all together during these 100+ days of isolation, by hosting a Sunday happy hour video conference, which has been soothing to the soul!

SIDE NOTE: Children, there was a time when the media did not televise Pride. Some call this progress, it is so complicated; I will take the 5th.

Lola Flash, “Steps (Pride)”

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

YES! There are so many ways for my communities to be [better] supported. Museums must start acquiring Black and brown queer artists who are not male. To be honest, I’ve recently had a few inquiries from institutions to do webinars, videos, and such as a way to placate their members. You know, like we are ALL with #BLM. My demands are such that if you want to use me (i.e.: tokenism) now, the next step is to put me where I have long belonged, which is in their permanent collections.

I would also add that collectors need to branch out, and not always be lured to the artists that are “HOT.” They should also buy from artists whose work is original and says something, loud and proud.

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

First and foremost, I would like to see financial equity. Some artists can barley afford to buy supplies — let alone rent studio space. Yet others have palatial spaces, administrative staff and multiple shows scheduled up until the end of time.

I would also like to see the public-at-large begin a conversation about homophobia in the art world. Several of the [currently more prominent] Black visual artists [I know] are very quiet when it comes to their sexuality. I have never felt the urge to be in the closet, but I guess some folks are being realistic about the fact that being openly queer in the art world is not acceptable, unless you are white.

The shifts I want to see are huge, and it really just goes back to overhauling the foundations of the way bureaucracy has been working in [service] of White Supremacy. In order for some of us to gain, some folks are going to have to lose — that is, if we are ever going to find ourselves living in a fair and equitable society.

Lola Flash, “syzygy (L Train Pray)”

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

I am looking forward to photographing people such as Angela Davis, Billie Jean King, Cicely Tyson, Kathleen Cleaver, Missy Elliot, RuPaul, Rachel Maddow, Wanda Sykes, and Lily Tomlin.

Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here

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