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Four Artists Explore Black Queer Sexuality on the Internet

Devin N Morris, E. Jane, Rafia Santana and Texas Isaiah explore online representations of community and sexuality in 'Torrent Tea: Queer Space and Photographic Futures.'

It's hard to deny that Instagram and Tumblr have made it easier for traditionally ignored artists, canons, and initiatives to build community and share art on their own terms. Torrent Tea: Queer Space and Photographic Futures, a new group exhibition featuring four queer artists of color—Devin N Morris, E. Jane, Rafia Santana, and Texas Isaiah—at the Newspace Center for Photography in Portland explores how the current generation of artists of queer and trans experience are imaging themselves and their communities through photography online.  

Installation view of Torrent Tea, 2017. Images by Jim Garrison / Courtesy Newspace Center for Photography

“Truthfully, I spend half my time online,” explains exhibition curator Ashley Stull Meyers to The Creators Project. “I'm interested in practices that operate outside the white cube, traditional gallery and museum structures.”

“Thoughtful portrayals of queer POC [people of color] are so hard to find in mainstream media. In television and film they're always relegated to the tragic peripheral character or comic relief.” With Torrent Tea, Meyers wanted “to forefront the foundations of culture, and that starts with the people who are honestly generating it.” 

Rafia Santana, Worked, 2015

“The Internet [as exhibition space] may be as close as we have to a more equitable playing field,” she adds. Torrent Tea is both a critique of the lack of representation of QTPoC (queer trans people of color) in the most august art spaces and absence of critical engagement with emerging QTPoC art practices. The exhibition is also spotlights some of those artists' emerging practices. “The artists in the show are doing work that’s not given the conceptual value it deserves because of its marginalized context and subversive media,” says Meyers. Rafia Santana’s Rafia's World, for instance, is hosted by Tumblr, a site that requires a level of fluency, according to the curator. This creates a barrier for the traditional art world to see, for instance, how Santana engineers art “around unpaid labor (#payblacktime), self-care (#forblackhealing) and social criticism (#listenup), that can drive home contemporary political theory with a GIF.” Torrent Tea also includes Santana’s portraits Laid Back, Fatigue (I Wish That I Wood Not Mes Up.) and the digitally altered Worked.

E. Jane, NOPE: A Manifesto, 2015. Web

“E. Jane is similar in that they aren't afraid to clap back at the tired tropes we always see surrounding 'angry black womxn,'” says Myers. “E's Notes on Softness is a gorgeous meditation on softness as a political act. Softness and femme energy can be turned on their heads to demonstrate refusal. White male artists make work about their point of view all day long without having to justify any broader connection to general whiteness.” E. Jane and Meyers also worked together to make NOPE: A Manifesto into an object for the exhibition. The manifesto began as a rebuttal to the valuation of their work as being inherently entangled in identity politics. “I REJECT THE COLONIAL GAZE AS THE PRIMARY GAZE. I AM OUTSIDE OF IT IN THE LAND OF NOPE,” the last two sentences of the manifesto read.   

Texas Isaiah, Davia Spain, 2016

Mounted in the exhibition, Texas Isaiah and Devin N Morris’ traditionally printed photographs express “private moments of queer camaraderie,” according to the curator. With the consent of Swagger Like Us, a San Francisco Bay Area-based hip-hop party for QTPoC folk, Isaiah captures a community in black-and-white in the club’s space. Morris’ Stepping Out series, 11 composed portraits of QTPoC in various stages of dress, show a disregard for gendered stereotypes and norms and plays with ideas of interior and exterior space. "Untitled (Abdu Green I), 2016," for instance, depicts a young black male-presenting subject wearing a green twin set without a shirt against a matching constructed exterior backdrop.  

Devin N Morris, Taylor, Ayasha, Destiny at Sea, 2016

“Being a black arts worker in Portland, Oregon, it's especially important to me to [stand up] for black makers and queer POC,” explains Meyers. “The demographic here is something like 76% white in general, so within administrative positions of power in the art field, the metrics are even worse.”

“[Portland-based curator] Yaelle Amir extended the invitation to me to fill the new year's first slot, and there was no question about the makerships I most wanted to center,” Meyers explains. “Portland certainly isn't unfriendly to artists of color, but there are some bodies of work and conversations happening that aren't immediately on the radar.” She adds, “If anything comes out of Torrent Tea I hope it's a lasting exposure to practices that operate outside the cis, white, male, monied canon.”

Torrent Tea: Queer Space and Photographic Futures continues through February 25 at the Newspace Center for Photography. Click here for more information.

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