Through portraiture and performance, David Antonio Cruz explores the nuances of gender, queerness, and race, and the invisibility of the brown and Black body in white American media and culture. These enduring portraits from his wegivesomuchandgivenothingatall series pay homage to Black trans women who were murdered in 2017–18 (the names of those portrayed here are listed below), laying bare the glaring and continued systemic violence against the trans community, especially trans women of color. Through dramatic tonal shifts in skin color and composition, which render each individual both real and divine, Cruz revives the humanity of each victim.
#sayhername, in order listed:
Dee (Tiffany) Chhin
Brooklyn BreYanna Stevenson
Ava Le’Ray Barrin
A portrait representing all the many who are
misidentified, misgendered, disappeared, and/or not reported.
#sayhername is a social movement calling attention to police brutality and antiblack violence against women, femmes, and girls.
In Reflections, Kiyan Williams exhumes the voice of Jessie Harris, a gender-nonconforming artist, from footage cut from Marlon Riggs’s film Tongues Untied (1989). The film was heralded as a groundbreaking work of LGBTQ+ cinema for its humanizing portraits of Black gay men during the AIDS epidemic. Williams’s appropriation of Riggs's discarded footage urges a critical consideration of the omission of gender-nonconforming people and histories from Riggs’s film, as well as more mainstream narratives. Expressing a sense of kinship with Harris, Williams activates the installation through performances in which Williams mirrors Harris’s dress and gestures.
Elektra KB’s hybrid banner-artworks combine her activism with her interdisciplinary art practice. She is particularly interested in how global dynamics of power and surveillance impact individual lives. Taking signs initially created for marches and protests, KB repairs, cleans, and displays them following their public use, recontextualizing them as textile works.
Protest Sign II expands the slogan of the radical advocacy group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP, founded 1987), who, for their thirtieth-anniversary march, invited KB to create a contemporary call to action in support of people living with AIDS. Nearby, a banner reading “I WAS NEVER YOURS” features a woman’s silhouette, borrowed from Soviet avant-garde design, skewering a group of Ku Klux Klan figures. Carried in May Day and Women’s Strike actions in New York in 2017, KB’s banner rejects renewed state support for white supremacy and patriarchy.
Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski simultaneously evokes an ancient past and a possible future where queer femmes of color, who are often caretakers, are at the forefront of creation and possibility.
Instructions for a Freedom depicts a protagonist on horseback—in a posture reminiscent of Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801)—who leads a cluster of figures onward after their emergence from a rainbow. Rainbows are a recurring motif in Moleski’s work, signifying not only LGBTQ+ identity and community, but also bridges between life and death, body and spirit, and the natural world and other realms. Her representations of femme identity, including nail polish, makeup, earrings, and other adornments, posit self-presentation as a mode of creation and tool for survival.
Jeffrey Gibson’s painting draws its title from Rhythm Controll’s track “My House” (1987), popularized by Larry Heard’s iconic deep house remix “Can You Feel It.” For Gibson, the lyric recalls the house clubs he frequented in adolescence, which served as spaces for queer and trans communities of color to express themselves on the dance floor. Pairing patterned beadwork and abstracted text, the work gestures to the artist’s Choctaw-Cherokee heritage and the range and innovation of indigenous artistic production.
A speculative vision of historical figures and events, Salacia unfolds in the style of Black fantasy and folktales, such as those found in Virginia Hamilton’s The Poeple Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985). The film follows Mary Jones, a Black trans woman and sex worker who lived in SoHo in the 1830s. In the film, Jones navigates brutal systems of racism and transphobia, including incarceration at Castle Williams, located on present-day Governors Island. A meditation on the intergenerational trauma of displacement, the film begins by imagining Jones within the free Black land-owning community Seneca Village and culminates by foreshadowing the village’s destruction through eminent domain to build Central Park.
In Roman mythology, Salacia is the goddess of salt water, who rules over the depths of the ocean along with her husband Neptune—a poignant reminder of the lasting impact of the transatlantic slave trade.
We Have Always Been on Fire is a collaboration between filmmaker Sasha Wortzel and musician and performer Morgan Bassichis. In this music video, Bassichis sings a track off of More Protest Songs! (2018) from within the dunes of Cherry Grove on Fire Island, New York. Bassichis describes the album, whose title can be understood as both an imperative (Listen to more protest songs!) and an eye roll (Not another protest song!), as “falling somewhere between adult lullabies and practical spells.” Simple chords and lyrical repetition offer up an incantation to the ghosts of Cherry Grove, a decades-long site of sanctuary for queer communities.
As Bassichis intones that “We have always been on fire / We have always been let down / We have always been an island,” Wortzel echoes this refrain visually, interweaving seaside imagery she captured in recent years on Fire Island with found footage by documentarian Nelson Sullivan from July 4, 1976, before the onset of HIV/AIDS. We Have Always Been on Fire culminates with Bassichis serenading the viewer from within the halo of a disco ball, evoking an intergenerational sense of loss and disappointment in the ongoing struggle for queer liberation.
Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall
May 3–December 8, 2019
Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising—a six-day clash between police and civilians ignited by a routine raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City—and explores its profound legacy within contemporary art and visual culture today. The exhibition draws its title from the rallying words of transgender artist and activist Marsha P. Johnson, underscoring both the precariousness and the vitality of LGBTQ+ communities.
The exhibition presents twenty-eight LGBTQ+ artists born after 1969 whose works grapple with the unique conditions of our political time, and question how moments become monuments. Through painting, sculpture, installation, performance, and video, these artists engage interconnected themes of revolt, commemoration, care, and desire.
The exhibition includes Mark Aguhar, Felipe Baeza, Morgan Bassichis, Anna Betbeze, David Antonio Cruz, TM Davy, Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski, John Edmonds, Mohammed Fayaz, Camilo Godoy, Jeffrey Gibson, Hugo Gyrl, Juliana Huxtable, Rindon Johnson, DonChristian Jones, Papi Juice, Elektra KB, Linda LaBeija, Park McArthur, Michi Ilona Osato, Una Aya Osato, Elle Pérez, LJ Roberts, Tuesday Smillie, Tourmaline, Kiyan Williams, Sasha Wortzel, and Constantina Zavitsanos. This exhibition also transforms the Forum space within the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art into an interactive Resource Room for visitors to engage LGBTQ+ histories and connect with local resources and community organizations working today.
Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall is curated by Margo Cohen Ristorucci, Public Programs Coordinator; Lindsay C. Harris, Teen Programs Manager, Education; Carmen Hermo, Associate Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art; Allie Rickard, Curatorial Assistant, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art; and Lauren Argentina Zelaya, Acting Director, Public Programs, Brooklyn Museum. Its Resource Room is organized by Levi Narine, Teen Programs Assistant, InterseXtions and Special Projects, in collaboration with the curators.
Generous support for this exhibition is provided by The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation. Additional support provided by Paul R. Beirne, the Helene Zucker Seeman Memorial Exhibition Fund, Robert Shiell Collection, Sally Susman and Robin Canter, and MaryRoss Taylor.
The Keith Haring Foundation and Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund provided generous support for related Education programming.