Maria Brito and artist Juliana Huxtable discuss gender fluidity, trans identity and the intersection of different disciplines in Huxtable’s practice including performance, DJ’ing, photography, music, painting and writing. Taking place in various parts of Brooklyn, including Huxtable’s studio, the episode includes interviews with artists Christopher Udemezue and Walt Cassidy.
Juliana Huxtable is one of those amazing artists
where she goes to places where people normally
don't want to hear, they don't want to go to
and she takes us there with humor and with brilliance.
She is at the intersection of many dialogues,
and she is also opening up
this entire conversation around gender.
And what I love about Juliana is that she's so prolific.
She can DJ, make her own music, make film,
she paints, she takes photographs.
she performs, she writes poetry and prose.
She is good at everything, and I'm so intrigued
and fascinating about her own persona,
and how cool she is.
So good to see you. Nice to see you.
Brito: When do you know that you wanted to be an artist?
When I was a child.
When I was three I told my mom
I wanted to be an artist
or that I was an artist,
not that I wanted to. I told her that I was.
How was your time aboard?
Because I have heard it so many times
that you said that the teachers were not supportive
and that you were trapping your identity according to them
and obsessed with putting your identity out in the work.
And as far as I'm concerned, that's what artists do.
They work with their identity
because it's the first thing they know.
All art is about identity.
Anyone who is making work it's like naturally
their identity is going to be woven into what they do.
But I think women, queer people, people of color
unfairly share the burden of being told
that what they do is identity,
even though it's not necessarily more or less about identity
than what anyone else does.
And so, are you totally over the trans conversation?
You don't want to ever like talk about it?
I'm not over that the trans conversation in so much
as that's always a part of any conversation
that I would have.
But I don't like when things become like pathological
or deterministic when people are like.
"Oh, you used pink hair because you were born a boy
and now you are a woman, and that means that you like
pink and that is why you have pink in this portrait.
That's like clinical, really suffocating,
uninteresting way of talking about art work.
Like, to me, it's like why I like art
is because it doesn't have to be a literal.
I want to be to be imaginative about thinking
about what trans could be as a category.
And so that's kind of more interesting to me,
and I think maybe my aversion
to the more literal trans conversation
is an interesting way to motivate
how I think about my work or something.
One of the pivotal moments for me
was when I saw your work at the triannual in 2015
because you were author and muse at the same time,
because we have that amazing 3D sculpture
by Frank Benson.
And When I first saw that work I was thinking to myself,
"She must feel very vulnerable."
The way that that sculpture is made
is your own body turned into an object.
And how do you feel about all the hoopla
around it and the attention?
Well, I think what most people don't realize is
that the sculpture was not made for the triannual.
When I agreed to do that sculpture,
it was going to be shown in one gallery in New York,
one gallery in London.
It's a very specific context,
And I never thought it was gonna be in a museum
with thousands of people seeing it.
Very early on in the sculpture,
It wasn't even going to be fully nude.
It wasn't even going to be in those colors.
Those colors for the sculpture with an adapted
because those were clothes that I had already been using
on myself, and new Nibiru portrait
in new museum was part that character
I had already been developing for years.
And so there were earlier portraits that I had done
in a similar vein with a similar sort of painting,
and that painting was adapted on
to the sculpture after the fact.
At the time, you know, I thought,
"Well, I guess probably more good
will come out of this than not."
And so I never really felt super sure about wanting
the sculpture to be in the show,
and then after the show opened,
I think my relationship with to the sculpture
got a bit more... complicated
is one way of putting it.
It's been, sometimes, it's been a source of stress.
And I'm happy to be at a point
where that sculpture has its own life
and I have my own life.
The topic of Denver is something that
fascinates me and a lot of people
because it's so ample and there are so many nuances,
and it's not just one thing or the other.
What have you been discovering lately with gender
that adds to your practice?
I've seen great portraits that you've created recently
that are interesting for people to think about gender.
Gender, to me, is like...
It's a lens. It's a tool.
It's something that can be as complicated
or as basic and reductive as you want it to be.
And I think that what I find really interesting
is like even the sort of like --
There's so much thought
if you're thinking about gender theory.
There are so many ideas and thoughts
and concepts and movements that fall loosely
under the rubric of like feminism
or gender studies or gender activism or queer theory.
And sometimes I think that those labels actually
short sight the overarching nature of what's being said.
Like, I think some of the most things
that have fundamentally changed the way that I see the world
have come or fall under gender theory,
but they're really using gender and using questions
of gender and sex as a way to interrogate
fundamental questions about society,
power, race, culture.
And so I think that one of the potentials of art and visual art
especially is to do a similar thing where it's using gender
as like a trope, but it's not just about gender.
It's not like I'm just making work about being
myself in the world.
It's a way of provoking questions about identity
and how identity functions and how style
and fashion and counter culture
and like identity on a much larger level exist
in the kind of contemporary moment.
And so it's about exploding gender or thinking about gender
as something that's not just self reference.
How do you get into the nightlife?
And you know you deejay and you also throw parties
or you used to shock value but how did that happen?
I mean I've always been obsessed with nightlife
since I was a kid. -Why?
I don't know, it's one of those things that's just like
I found and fantasized about nightlife
as a space of liberation.
And I think that for me church was really important to me
growing up, I loved the music. I loved the community.
I loved the glamour of church like Southern black Baptist
like people you dress up and so
but I think that church had a lot of shortcomings for me
in the sense that it was like
could be very conservative, socially.
Clubbing to me was almost like an all like a form of church
but a much more free. version of that or something.
And so it just made sense to me
that I would start deejaying and throwing parties
and being more involved in the creative side.
Everything feels impossible right now.
Why don't you tell me about the House of Ladosha
and how it started and what it means
and what happens when you go there.
So House Ladosha is a family, at the core.
It started at-- in dorm room in new school.
Fast forward many many many years later that family
is only just grown.
How are your creative collaborations with Juliana?
We've done so many different things that,
I guess it depends on what the project is.
We've done parties big parties together.
We've helped each other with each other's work.
We've worked collaboratively on stuff for House of Ladosha.
As hectic as it may seem on the outside, and sometimes it is,
it's always seamless because we know
that we have each other's backs and we have the same goals.
I love the project that you did with her and the new museum.
-Oh, yeah. -For Traeger.
and that also I love the idea of using art
for social activism in connection with gender.
Everything we do is always in some way pointing to politics
but we should kind of put a camera or mural against that.
And then also celebrate House of Ladosha
and the work that we've been doing.
So, how do we kind of shake people up to be like,
Look, yes things are dark now but they've always been
kind of intense. Especially for queer families.
And the best thing you can do is.
Like not forget that.
That it's important to keep the people
who you love closest to you,
especially if you're queer to, like, like hurdle up.
Because it's, even if it does get better,
and hopefully will, it's not going to be easy overnight.
[ Cheers and applause ]
You were a total pioneer because now
is that we're seeing that non binary
and the fluidity of everything is actually becoming the topic.
Yes. It's great. So if you did this 20 years ago...
Yes. People weren't so obsessed with language back then
but the LGBTQ community it was sort of us and them.
That was it. That's all you needed to know.
And so when I started developing my look and my identity
I was gender neutral and I was fluid and I was
not interested in committing to any kind of box.
So I would do public events and there would be pageants
and people would say the M.C. would go
Are you a boy or a girl. And I would say neither.
That's the only answer I have was neither.
I couldn't say, "Oh, I'm fluid." or, "I'm non binary."
or I didn't have that language and and people celebrated
that just that notion of not knowing.
How did you meet Juliana?
She was hanging out with the House of Ladosha
and they were a band at the time
♪ I guess I'm carrying Bradshaw, Royston, fashion, genefac ♪
And so I had seen her performance
and she was just on the side go go dancing.
And I saw this amazing person
on literally on the side of the stage
and I was like "This is all great,
but she's the star." And actually there was,
someone from publication there that night
and I made some declaration I was like
"Oh, that girl. She's the new it girl.
So whatever she's got going on, you need to look at her."
I was just drawn to her. I find that a lot with artists.
Who are operating within certain networks.
It's like you just recognize it when you see it.
It's almost like meeting an old soul.
Like, I've known you forever even though we've just met
and we had that connection.
What inspires you about this neighborhood?
-I think the diversity. -I love Bushwick.
I mean it's very cool.
I mean I'm also like moved here as an artist.
Like, I moved here because I liked being in the neighborhood.
And so it's weird to see people that move
and don't want to see black or Latino people.
I find that to be weird
but that's something that's kind of happening
where even like me or Chris we'll walk into a bar.
And people get nervous and weird and it's like. "What?"
It's like why would you move to Bushwick,
if you want to just put beard wax on?
I think that for what it is worth
at least you keep producing amazing music.
And photos and videos.
Out of the neighborhood.
It's been lovely. Thank you.