This article is part of Hyperallergic’s Pride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.
Demian DinéYazhi’, a trans nonbinary artist of the Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá (Zuni Clan Water’s Edge) and Tódích’íí’nii (Bitter Water) clans within the Diné tribe, felt that their artistic career was on the rise before the pandemic. They were actively participating in panels and public programming for various art institutions, using the opportunities as a springboard to share their own institutional critiques. But as quarantine set in and revealed the most damning disparities between the marginalized and the privileged, DinéYazhi’, now based in Portland, Oregon, shifted their focus to social justice and mutual aid efforts. As racial tensions boiled over during the summer of 2020, the artist observed the same organizations that once provided them opportunities exploiting the concepts pushed to the forefront during the pandemic in their solidarity statements, often without any real follow-through or consideration for the needs of vulnerable artists.
DinéYazhi’, whose practice includes text-based printmaking, is focused on the question of what it means to be a participant in these spaces. “Even in speaking in the tongue of your oppressor, there is still a subversive strategy that gets implemented on a daily basis,” they said. “My utilization of text is a strategic form of truth telling.” In the interview below, DinéYazhi’ draws connections between the immediacy of social media and the DIY-aligned reproducibility of printmaking to challenge the ways in which museums and art institutions extract from marginalized artists and their labor.
Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?
Demian DinéYazhi´: My art practice is currently in a transitional phase as a result of personal and sociopolitical factors. It’s impossible to be a living and thriving Indigenous person without being impacted by forced assimilation into colonial society. Just as it’s impossible to be an empowered Trans, 2Spirit, Non-Binary, or Queer Artist without being impacted by forced assimilation into cis-heterosexual colonial systems. My artwork is impacted by these disharmonious societal systems that are working against us and distracting us on endless fronts to keep us busy and struggling to survive.
As I’ve navigated post-2020 society, I’ve questioned what my role is as an artist and this has led me to create work that critiques art institutions, galleries, organizations, and nonprofits. My current body of work, extractive industries (2022–present), explores institutional critique through a transdisciplinary strategy from text-based letterpress prints, digital social media graphics, vinyl lettering, photographs, and neon sculptures.
H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?
DD: Part of the reason my work is in a transitional phase is directly related to my gender identity. Most of my work has examined my own awareness of how for most of my life I embraced masculinity as a kind of shield and protection in order to survive in Western society. My earlier work, “Man-Size (Revisited)” (2011), is a reworking of PJ Harvey’s 1993 song “Man-Size.” The piece is a mirrored, near-synchronized performance of the original music video. While I was creating this piece, I began to realize how much of my gender representation was informed by female alternative rock and punk rock personas from the ’90s that were disrupting and exploring gender roles through performance, music, and art.
In doing this work, I began to question my own gender identity in relation to Indigenous Diné cultural traditions but also in relation to Non-Binary and Transgender identity. At this point in my practice, I am beginning to create work that explores my journey these last few years as I’ve come to embrace and revel in my evolving gender identity.
H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?
DD: My community of Indigenous, Black, Brown, Pacific Islander, and Asian babes, and Trans, 2Spirit, Non-Binary, and Queer creatives keep me inspired and nourished. Joss Barton is a Trans poet living in Chicago who I truly believe is one of the best poets and performers of our time. manuel arturo abreu and Victoria Anne Reis’s free pop-up art school, home school, is a radical model that supports so many artists and creatives and gives me hope that we can build and nurture networks of support that uplift entire communities. The Indigenous Action crew out in occupied Flagstaff, Arizona, is also one major source of endless validation and inspiration while pushing anarchist and mutual aid efforts with love, care, and respect for all our relatives.
H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?
DD: I hope we get the rest we need and the care that is our right. I hope we continue supporting one another and focus our efforts on strengthening bonds in our communities. I hope we begin to strategize and dream of utopic futures where we succeed. I hope we begin imagining and writing stories about how we fought back and came up with solutions that created the futures we need right now. I hope we never forget our power and remember that our fight is also aligned with various oppressed, disabled, and colonized peoples. Lastly, after we save the world, I hope we don’t have to deal with all this bullshit again on this sacrit, beautiful planet!