The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.
Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them. If you identify as a queer art worker, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about how to participate.
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What’s your name?
Daniel Alejandro Trejo
Where are you based currently?
I currently live in Stockton, California and produce work in my studio located in Sacramento.
Describe who you are and what you do.
I am a Latinx, queer visual artist working in ceramic sculpture with an adjacent curatorial practice. I’m interested in making works that re-examine the conventional production of ceramics. My aesthetic is playful, bright and humorous but with melancholic themes. I draw from my personal experiences of growing up as a small queer brown kid in a conservative town, where being too visible or appearing ambiguous could put me in jeopardy or in violent situations.
In my curatorial practice and through a collective I co-founded along with Natalye Valentina, called Unibrow Collective, I try to show works from folks who don’t have access or the resources to present their work beyond their respective regions. I am hoping to broaden conversations about community art practices that go unnoticed in contemporary discourse, compared to art capitals. I try my best to provide crucial space for different voices, experiences, and situations which many art platforms rarely offer.
Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.
I’m very proud of participating in a satellite art fair, QiPO, during Art Fair Week in Mexico City back in February, and of being able to curate a booth for Unibrow Collective which included works from artists working in Sacramento (Tavarus Blackmon, Tom Betthauser, Erin Kaczkowski, Joben Penuliar, Natalye Valentina, and Carrie Ziser).
Working in Stockton and Sacramento has been such a challenge because we have very limited resources and fewer opportunities for experimentation and risk-taking. We lack galleries and support, and most of the available spaces continue to only show works by problematic white artists. I am very thankful for the space we had at QiPO, and that the generous artists worked diligently to produce works for the booth. I am constantly working and trying to find [new] spaces, and I tend to take on the responsibility of helping others whenever I see an opportunity that can help expand room for our narratives, both collectively and individually.
Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?
This pandemic has been making it difficult — impossible, really — to show up physically for my community, which is really frustrating. I have friends who are performers, and many are struggling right now with closed bars and clubs.
Hanging out with friends who inspire me greatly — Jay Oatis, whose drag name is “A La Mode,” and Ricardo Vasquez whose drag name is “Julianna Budgett” — and watching them do their thing has been one of my favorite ways to decompress and show support. When they switched to online performances to protect the health and safety of those in our community, it served as a reminder that we are all doing our best and it made me feel less lonely. I loved listening to A La Mode read Zoe Leonard’s, “I want a president” during an outfit change in one of their performances. Plus, it was very cute spamming them with heart emojis.
What’s been top of mind for you lately?
Safety. I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means. Much of my work draws from personal experiences growing up in an unsafe neighborhood, living in one of California’s most dangerous cities (Stockton), and trying to make the best of it. I was reading Violence: Humans in Dark Times by Brad Evans and Natasha Lennard prior to George Floyd’s murder, and it’s been very unnerving to read that civil unrest and hyper-surveillance is cyclical. Whether through soft violence enacted via our government’s disability system — between the sluggish bureaucratic application process and unsympathetic case workers who have the ability to deny claims and harm queer communities of color — or more blatant violence enacted by police and their efforts in upholding white supremacy. I often wish for our safety.
Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)
On a personal level, I sincerely admire my friend Carmel Dor, who is a painter based in Sacramento and was also my “accountability buddy” when it came to applying to graduate school together. They are very kind and gentle, very creative, and I feel like I can go to them whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. Also, they high-key wear amazing clothes; they gifted me a long sleeve that I love.
In the ceramics community, I absolutely love the work that POT LA has been doing! I started following them when they first created their Instagram account, and met [their studio manager] Ambar Arias sometime in the fall. She is doing amazing work and providing space for queer POC who are interested in working with clay. I really admire the fact that they also provide space for Spanish-speakers, and offer Spanish only instruction for some of the classes they teach there!
How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?
Definitely by participating in the ongoing protests to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and also by reading more books, poems, and essays by queer writers in Mexico. I feel disconnected to my mother country, and I know very little of Mexico’s LGBTQ+ history. I decided to dedicate this month to inform myself about significant events that affected the queer community, ranging from the AIDS epidemic to the drag scene. I compiled a list of books, and I am starting off by reading something a bit light-hearted, La Noche Soy Yo by Henri Donnadieu, which is about the history of one of Mexico City’s first gay bars. These readings will be ongoing and not just limited to the month of June.
Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?
Institutions, like gallery spaces, definitely need to start making a more sincere effort to help out queer artists of color by offering space and programming pertinent to the community. I feel that whenever an institution is organizing a show or workshop with marginalized artists, we are used as tools to convince the general public that the host institution does not lack diversity. Considering our current political climate, I am a bit more skeptical (and have been for many years) of how some institutions operate when the programs are not reflective of the communities they serve. I know of some gallery spaces in predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods that rarely (or never) show works by Black and Latinx artists. I also know galleries in immigrant communities that do not offer bilingual programming. What’s keeping these institutions from putting in the work? Why are they excluding members of the community from engaging with art? It’s shameful.
I still feel uncomfortable engaging in some spaces that I know aren’t meant for people like me, but I still decide to take up space.
In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?
I would love for more queer voices of color to be included in ongoing discussions of contemporary ceramics. I’m very much aware that it’s a privilege to work with such a demanding material that requires so much attention and energy, and I know firing a kiln can be costly. Having a welcoming art space with such facilities in a small town would be so beneficial in providing a safe space to exchange ideas and engage in meaningful dialogues while creating work. It would be even better if this space offered stipends or discounts. Accessibility is a very real issue that many QTPOC face in all spheres, not just the arts.
What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?
I really want to go out for dinner as a large group and have a few cocktails when it’s safer for everyone. I can imagine me and my friends having a cute time, talking about our experiences of the pandemic, and enjoying each other’s company and energy. I’m being a stereotypical Taurus, but I truly miss social situations that involve delicious food and great company.
Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here.