Working full-time as a creative has been a lifelong dream, and one thing I have finally learned is that it required me being secure and confident to be fully seen and heard through my works as an emcee and vocal artist, writer, circus professional and visual artist. I’m kind of all over the place in my artistry, much like with my open gender identity. I’m both art-fluid and gender-fluid, and I would not have so freely come to exist this way had I not come to finally embrace my queerness more than a decade ago.
I’ve been writing and rapping since tweenhood, though just last year I finally publicly engaged my visual artistry in a city-funded exhibition called Social Structures, which took place through Santa Fe Art Institute; “Behold Golden Moments,” a piece created around racial justice and social distancing, was born. Following that, I had a solo exhibition at the Vital Spaces Midtown Gallery called 1010, which showcased nearly 70 pieces I had created in fewer than six months, including paintings and drawings, an EP and an affirmational zine. What inspired me to finally come into my own as a visual artist was a long-held secret desire to be more of a Hiphop-style writer/graffiti or mural artist. Unexpectedly, my visual arts practice brought out my queer in a way that has allowed me to be even more authentic, more bold, more expressive.
Of course, I’m not the only one around here living my best life artistically. I am honored to know quite a few masterful arts cultivators living in Santa Fe.
Alexandra Diaz (she/her) is an award-winning queer author who started pushing boundaries in literature circa 2009 with her first young adult novel, Of All the Stupid Things. Diaz describes it as a novel in which queerness is heavily centered.
“One of my protagonists was discovering her sexuality and what that meant for her and those around her,” she tells me. “I love exploring queer romances, and romances that are not labeled as ‘this means you’re gay or bisexual.’ I like characters who are discovering their own sense of self.”
Though even with the desire to put her identity first in her work, Diaz insists publishers not put her writing in any one box.
“On one hand, as a writer, I love creating characters who are different from me and my points of view. I feel I have grown and developed as a person as a result, because I can see things from others’ perspectives,” she explains. “On the other hand, as a Latina, publishers have often encouraged and expected me to primarily write Latino protagonists. That’s fine to some extent, except that I am so much more than just one label.”
Extraordinary beadworker, Hollis Chitto (he/him, they/them; Mississippi Choctaw, Laguna/ Isleta Pueblo) is a Native, Two-Spirit artist who also creates through a personal lens. Chitto finds himself inspired by other queer artists, he says, in “seeing [their] strength or resilience, seeing people overcome—and still being able to thrive after that.”
“I feel like in the past few years I’ve kinda started focusing on more meaning in my art,” Chitto adds. “I did a commissioned piece related to health called ‘Bloodwork #2,’ which was a beaded bag that had a white background and blood coming down. I really wanted to bring awareness to HIV in the Native communities; as a queer, male-presenting person, HIV is a part of our history, so I wanted to do something to recognize that and to honor the people that came before that didn’t have the opportunity to live long.”
Chitto recently started a new residency as the Dubin Fellow at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, and has become passionate about soft sculpture. He expresses genuine excitement, for example, over a new project through which he is creating two-spirit traditional beaded dolls, though with a more contemporary bent. Chitto ultimately encourages aspiring artists to practice, “even when there’s not a particular project to work toward. Find your voice and don’t do what you think is expected.”
Diaz advises aspiring creators to “not feel ashamed of who you are and what you feel inside,” adding that “there’s no such thing as not being ‘gay enough’ or ‘trans enough’ or ‘queer enough,’”
“It’s also OK for your feelings and self to continuously change throughout your life,” she continues. “Everyone has their own life journey, so embrace it. In terms of writing, be aware that you might be put into a box where publishers expect everything you write to be about the same aspect of you, especially if you’re successful writing in that field.” Diaz is working on a historical fiction novel for middle-grade readers, set in 1960-61, which is inspired by her parents’ immigration from Cuba to the US. The tentative release date for that is fall 2023.
And so I find myself more inspired and in a position to offer some advice of my own to the would-be artists out there: Allow yourself to explore and to be inspired by the creations all around you, not to mention the social justice work reflected in creations by the likes of Chitto, Diaz and so many others. Think of the we and the us as one. Get into it, darlings.
Oriana Lee identifies as a queer, interdisciplinary artist of African descent and currently lives in Santa Fe. Learn more at orianalee.love.