Describe your role/life work in one sentence.
My role in life is to tell the true narrative of queers and people of colour, one that is multidimensional and full of love.
Has there been a single highlight of your career to date, or are there more stand-out moments?
The highlights of my career have been my most recent huge solo shows in New York at Pen + Brush gallery and at Autograph gallery in London. Both shows were a comprehensive exploration of over three decades of work. For me, it was an opportunity to consider the span of my life’s work, all at one glance, and to understand my trajectory.
Who or what has been your main inspiration?
My family legacy.
What are the five words that best describe you?
Brave, Black, Proud, Love and Tumultuous.
If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?
The thing I would like to change the most in this world is discrimination. It is my dream that we, as a people, see each other for the humans that we are and not continue to feed into previous misnomers and bigotry that has been the root of systematic injustice.
What is your favourite restaurant – or best ever meal – and who was it with?
I suppose my favourite restaurant would be a sushi restaurant, and the specific one, would depend on what city I am in. Recently, I went to an amazing restaurant, named Yama. My best friend Aldo met me there for my birthday treat.
What is your favourite holiday place – and why?
My favourite holiday is Gay Pride. It’s a time that we can all celebrate our lives and also remember those who are no longer with us. So many of my friends died during the AIDS crisis, and it feels like a blessing to be able to remember them, as well as continue the fight for equity. I also love that the media has finally caught up with us, and eye-catching ads pop up on the subways and billboards with queer folks front + center. Again, I remember when there was no coverage whatsoever!
Which charities do you support and why?
I am a big supporter of Queer I Arts, which is a non-profit. Q I A was launched in 2009 and they support LGBTQ+ artists. At present I am part of the Mentorship program, and I have a smart mentee, named Felli Maynard, who is creating some amazing photographs. As well, it looks as though I will be on their board, in the very near future.
How old were you when you had your first LBTQ+ kiss?
The first time I kissed a girl was in college. Until that time, I wasn’t sure that I was gay, as I had not seen any representation of myself. In high school, I would walk up and down Christopher Street, in Greenwich Village, looking for a hint of a girl that looked like me, but saw no one. Young people nowadays are so lucky, in that they have so many examples of different kinds of queers, I imagine it must be easier to come out.
Your images are a visually stunning challenge to racist, sexist and homophobic stereotypes. Was there a particular event/series of circumstances which drove you to make this your life work?
Definitely! I grew up not seeing myself, in books, in the media and basically there was nothing that gave me the idea that I was good. Instead, what I did see was images of black people as criminals, queer people as perverts and women as weak. In fact, when my mother birthed me, it was illegal for her to vote. SO, herein lies the reason why I have spent my life, creating images that show my communities as beautiful, viable people.
Your work takes you all over the world. Which are the places which most fire your soul, both professionally and personally?
After living in London for 12 years, I definitely have an affinity for the UK. And I just fell in love with a beautiful woman there, so more kudos to Londontown! I also had an amazing residency at Alice Yard in Trinidad and was treated like family, so many people, young and old, volunteered to model for me. I also have a love for South Africa, especially Johannesburg. But truth be told, I am excited to travel various places, tracing my DNA, to both photograph and get a better understanding of my ancestry. Each of my projects are designed with a global lens and therefore, as they say, “the world is my oyster”.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the LGBT+ community in the US and what do you think needs to happen?
The biggest challenge would definitely be the persistent homophobia and hateful attitudes that prevail. Instead of seeing difference as a positive notion, society continues to harbour untruths which, in many cases can be devastating. Within our LGBTQ+ communities, we need to continue to support each other, and feel obligated to give each other a “leg up”. In addition, at this point in the 21st century, we need to be out and proud. There are some artists here in America who are very successful, but are in the closet. To me, this kind of behavior leads to continued homophobia and a sort of self-hate, which has no place in my world.
A horrible question for you! Is there one single photograph/photographic series that you would run to save over the others? If so, please can you explain your choice?
No, I think of my photos as my children, so in that sense, they are all precious.
You write, very movingly, about your soul being “hopeful for a divine future where we can run anew, jumping in space from planet to planet, far away from the hashtag chatter and into a narrative of pure joy”. What does your personal narrative of pure joy comprise?
Gosh, pure joy would be a place where there is equity for all. I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying that we would have a socialist society, but definitely an egalitarian environment, where we would all have the same opportunities, from start to finish. As someone growing up, with so much of my identity averse to societal norms, it almost seems impossible but. like my ancestors who were slaves, we must think positive and not give up on our dreams for a more fair future.
Your biography says that you welcome audiences that are willing “not only to look but to see”. Please explain what you mean by this – and why it matters so much.
The basic idea is that we need to recalculate the way we see. We need to undo the prejudiced scenarios that we learned growing up; from our parents, school and the media. It’s almost like we all need to brainwash all preconceived ideas and start afresh.
Your work is currently showing at the Gallery Blue Door in Baltimore. What other exhibitions and projects have you planned for 2020 and beyond?
Yes, the show at Gallery Blue Door is really exciting. I’m really looking forward to being back in Baltimore, where I graduated from Maryland Institute, College of Art, in 1981. It feels good to return as an adult and at the “height” of my career. I will be in conversation with Dr Leslie King-Hammond, who was my favourite teacher while I was there, and in fact, she was the only black teacher on campus. She really helped embed my passion for Art, I owe her a lot. The next show will be at Opus 40, which is in upstate New York, and I am also in a group show, in honour of Women’s Month, at The Maggi Peyton Gallery at the Office of Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.
*Photo credit: Becci Manson