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Queer Art Workers Reflect: Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera Is Honoring Anti-colonial Practices Through Design

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Artist, designer, and curator Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera (all images courtesy Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera)

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?

Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera

Where are you based currently? 

San Francisco, CA

Describe who you are and what you do.

I’m a designer, educator, and curator who combines anti-colonial, community-based knowledge with site-specific installations and graphic design to create visual narratives that honor ancestral practices, decenter Eurocentric perspectives, and propose new autonomous futures.

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Documentation of the #thisisweirdwithoutyou project, by Marcela Pardo Ariza and Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera

Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

My greatest achievement is being able to open up spaces for my students to understand and be proud of the complexity of their identities through graphic design. Something that I’ve done lately that I’m proud of is start a decolonial book/film club through which a group of 10 queers will meet monthly to read, watch, talk, and learn about decolonial practices.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

First, cooking and sharing it with my friends. Second, dancing and singing and more dancing.

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A flyer for aquí estamos / here we are, Queer Cultural Center, San Francisco, curated by Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

How do we create a real sense of community virtually? Is that even possible?

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.)

My roommate, Marcela Pardo Ariza, an amazing artists who is always creating work to uplift and celebrate the kinship amongst the queer community in the Bay Area. My partner, Felipe Garcia Jr., a bartender who always advocates for more queer representation in cocktail bars. The queer community in San Francisco, which is always there to support its members and is always resisting and celebrating. My friends in NY, Patri and Pao, who are always there to guide and teach me. Shylah Hamilton Pacheco, CCA Diversity Studies Chair, who has been a mentor to me and always reminds me to “vibrate higher and higher.”

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

I’ll be curating aquí estamos / here we are a project for the Queer Cultural Center in San Francisco. The project itself is an act of solidarity, regeneration, and celebration between artists from the Bay Area and Puerto Rico. In addition to sharing the artists’ newest work in social media, every week I’ll be having intimate conversations with each artist about the domestic space, solidarity, celebration, and regeneration. These conversations will be shared online weekly during June. On June 30, I’ll be hosting a live conversation, open to the public, as well as a celebration with four artists — two from the Bay Area and two from Puerto Rico — during which we will be talking about queer solidarity, regeneration, celebration, and the Stonewall anniversary.

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A screenshot of the schedule for aquí estamos / here we are, Queer Cultural Center, San Francisco, curated by Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera

Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

Yes, I think we still need a lot more representation. We need to center trans and gender non-confirming artists and art workers. We can also be included and featured in projects that are not solely based on identity because we our identities are also intersectional.

In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

I want to see queers working together to center the work of Indigenous artists and designers. I’m hoping to see more Black queers and queers of colors in high-level and full-time positions in the academia.

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Documentation of the #thisisweirdwithoutyou project, by Marcela Pardo Ariza and Juan Carlos Rodriguez Rivera

What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

Uf, cooking a huge meal with the theme of solidarity and inviting friends over to eat, drink, sing karaoke, dance and then head to El Rio or a queer bar in SF to dance.

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