Amidst the current attention economy steeped in inequity, how can we truly collaborate across difference? I spoke with Edxie Betts, Matice Moore, and Micah Bazant of the Trans Life and Liberation Art Series about how they do it, and what they see on the horizon for trans art movements.
Art as Roses
In a time where aesthetics originating from trans and queer people end up in Urban Outfitters clothing lines and black trans women characters are written into Netflix shows, we are also witnessing some of the highest rates of murders of trans women in history. Many, including thinkers like Reina Gossett and Eric Stanley, have come forward and articulated that “visibility is a trap”, that there is a direct correlation between this increased visibility, and this spike in violence targeting trans people of color. Acknowledging these realities, trans youth in New Orleans involved in the anti-prison group BreakOUT! asked people to “give us our roses while we’re still alive”, and the Trans Life and Liberation Art Series answered.
The Trans Life and Liberation Art Series started as an effort by artist Micah Bazant, turning out little illustrations portraying trans people of color on their Facebook, and grew into a weekly collaboration with hundreds of likes and adoring comments on each post. Today, contributors to the series hail from all over the country and include Edxie Betts, Wriply Bennett, Chucha Marquez, Matice Moore, Noah Jenkins, Selva Neblina, Rommy Torrico, Nikki Jackson, Ethan X Parker, Bishakh Som, Ebin Lee, and Micah Bazant. Each week, the group puts out a portrait of a living trans person of color. Most recently, the series has depicted the likes of Raquel Willis, Ky Peterson, Micky Bradford, Jamal T. Lewis, among others. Demonstrating that their work is grounded in grassroots organizing led by the same people they are making art about, the group works with Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Sins Invalid, Strong Families, GetEqual, and Survived and Punished.
Producing creative work these day can be pretty fraught. If you make things and share them online, you are knee-deep in an attention economy that privileges certain people, and often means playing a social capital game even when you know it will likely detract from your self-esteem and the integrity of your work. Despite all this messy complexity, the artists behind Trans Life and Liberation Art Series haven’t stopped putting out work that hypes people who inspired them, and are willing to have these tough conversations.
As the group closes in on the fundraising goal on their Kickstarter campaign, we spoke with Edxie, Micah and Matice about what it’s like to collaborate across difference, navigating internet fame, and what it means to “make it” as an artist these days.
Portrait of Micky Bradford by Micah
What brought you to this work personally?
Edxie: I guess the work for survival under systems determined to eradicate and control me have always been there. Even before me in regards to my trans-cestors. But as far as this project goes I had been doing a few portraits of some black queer and trans people who were still living yet incarcerated for defending themselves against an attacker, like the one I did for Ky Peterson, a young black trans man looking at 30 years for killing his rapist in self defense.
So I had already spoken with a few trans queer gender non conforming comrades about the lack of art that isn’t a dead black trans women’s portrait or calling attention towards folks like us under extreme duress. So when I heard that this project came to be, I had initially just wanted to be painted and drawn to call attention towards the fact that I’m still living and struggling and for it to signal boost collective projects I’m part of. But Micah was familiar with some of my work as an artist already and asked that I participate at length to that extent.
Matice: Initially, I returned back to art making as an outlet for my grief and feelings of isolation. I had some art training about 12 years ago, but shortly thereafter was too focused on getting by, paying my bills, to really explore that aspect of myself. Fast forward about 10 years to the month after the initial Ferguson uprising when my partner at the time introduced me to linocut printmaking. The medium gave me a means to focus my attention and energy, and an outlet for expressing my grief and my politics.
I’d done some level of organizing in my community, and was really looking for the best way to support movements for black and trans liberation as two main groups I identify with and feel passionately about.
I learned about Micah’s work in 2013 when I was a part of the Stand with Monica campaign to support Monica Jones, a black trans woman from Phoenix who was being profiled and persecuted under Arizona’s oppressive prostitution laws. Micah provided the art we used on numerous items to raise awareness of the situation. When I moved to the Bay Area in August 2015, Micah and I started connecting and talking more about collaborating in the future.