Hello from Halifax!
Thanks to the INCREDIBLE residency that I am currently on, I have FINALLY had the chance to revitalize my sorely neglected artist page. Here amidst the Atlantic sea air, in a beautiful apartment with a lushly planted and strawberried(!) garden, I feel, for the first time (in my life, maybe?) like my art is front and center in my life. (All this thanks to the wonderful kindness of the folks at Inkstorm, Sad Rad, and Anchor Archive Collectives, who put on this residency every year!) Hence this very first post in my ”writer’s blog,” which will, ostensibly, document my artistic process and preserve it for queer/trans PoC posterity for years to come (at least, this is what the darling and dazzling Kama La Mackerel tells me).
This is a photo from the performance night, Home Invasion (in honour of trans migrant activist Jenicet Gutierrez and her unceremonious ejection from the White House) Kama and I held at the Khyber Centre in Halifax – I am blown away by the talent, fierceness, and generosity of the Scotian PoC artists who performed alongside us. Whatever myths we might have internalized about scarcity and unworthiness, racialized queer artistry and femme magic are all around us, in every place.
Some Reflections on Scarcity and Success from a newly Resident Artist
In the midst of all this abundance, I think that now might be a good moment for some sober reflection on art, scarcity, and success (as a trans woman of colour under capitalism). In the few days I’ve been in Halifax, I’ve caught myself almost frantically Facebook status-posting about how happy I am to be here (I am), how lovely everything has been (it has), and how great all of my projects have been going (I mean, more or less…).
This isn’t just narcissism (though it is some of that also), it’s standard artistic practice – social media is, for artists, how we promote and document ourselves. The appearance of success is pretty much as important as artistic success itself, since one leads to the other in terms of landing bookings, contracts, etc. This is particularly true for marginalized artists (read: racialized, trans, femme, disabled, etc), because even more than other artists (read: white, moneyed, MFA-holding) we live in a paradigm of scarcity. We are always told there is no money in the arts, no room/interest/demand for our art, that only a select few us will become the chosen tokens who ‘make it’ as professionals.
And while all this social media-ing is necessary to our survival, it also breeds jealousy and feelings of inadequacy; commodification of the self; and – worst of all – the illusion that making it is just out of our reach. If only we could get that residency. That book deal. That big break.
And I just want to be honest and say, I know that I am a relatively successful emerging racialized, transwoman writer/performer with online and print publications, two residencies completed, and a bunch of performance credits and still, IT IS HARD. ”Making it” is freakin’ HARD. A friend of mine – also a PoC woman artist – recently said to me, ”You seem like the image of the perfect femme artist. The kind of woman who just floats from success to success.”
Right. Image being the key word.
Because – and this is, in large part, my own damn Facebook status-posting fault – we never talk about the difficult parts. The degrading parts. The waiting-six-months-to-get-a-cheque-from-a-performance-and-Pride TM-mails-it-to-the-wrong-drag-queen parts. We never talk about the fact it doesn’t matter if my article gets 10,000 shares, or 15,000, or 20,000, I still only get $50 for it. We never talk about editors jerking you around, or working until 4AM on an application or a pitch so that maybe someone will deign to underpay you, or Established Artists (yes, queer and of colour) withholding information from you because they know that artistic institutions will only fund one marginalized token at a time. About years of inbox folders full of one-line rejection emails while mediocre white straight poets are putting out their first, second, third book. About taking shitty gigs with shitty organizers to pay the bills. To get exposure. I could go on and on and on and on. So could any of us.
To any QPOC artist who’s ever been jealous of me? No worries. Chances are I’ve been jealous of you, as well. I am jealous all the time. I am constantly starving for more, more, more success. Starving to make it, make money, make my big break. Starving to prove something that should be self-evident: the fact that I am worthwhile, just like you.
I’ve noticed a trend among some of the better-paid, more established artists in the QPOC ”scene” to resist this paradigm of scarcity with a politic of abundance: reblogging and helping out other artists, particularly the young and still emerging. The idea here is that we do not have to live in a scarcity culture – that all of us, instead of just one of us, can make it.
This is incredible and admirable, and I have benefited from this, but I also have to wonder – is it this true? Can we all make it? And make it as what? Are we all trying to be artists-in-residence, living from grant to grant, only as good as our next book deal, gallery show, teaching position? Constantly begging someone to tell us we’re good enough, over and over?
I wonder if we can dream differently about the world our art is born into. If we need to start reconceptualizing what we mean by ”professional” art. Because ”professional” in this moment means ”saleable” and that means there will always be competition, always those who make it and those who don’t. I want to make art that is free of the constraint imposed upon it by capitalism, of the need to constantly market and self-promote…and I also want to make a living. I want to believe that this is possible. I need to believe that this is possible.
Because everyone deserves a garden, a beautiful apartment, a clean and well-lit and nourishing place to find their voice and create beauty.