Lee Laa Ray Guillory wins Queer|Art’s Illuminations Grant for Black Trans Women Visual Artists

New York’s Queer|Art—founded in 2009 by filmmaker Ira Sachs to support a generation of LGBTQ+ artists that lost mentors to the AIDS Crisis of the 1980s—has just announced that Lee Laa Ray Guillory is the winner of the organization’s second annual Illuminations Grant for Black Trans Women Visual Artists. The New Orleans-based interdisciplinary artist will receive a $10,000 cash grant, professional development support, and individual studio visits with members of the judges panel to support her practice. 

“At the start of this process, my hope was not to merely evaluate but to open my mind to new expressions and cast away my own preconceptions, not only as an artist but as a Trans woman of color”, comments Connie (Girl) Fleming, 2021 Queer|Art Illuminations Grant Judge, performer, and fashion icon. “We experience such extreme lives with lessons that influence society and the human condition in numerous ways. I was truly rewarded when looking through the submissions which were filled with rich, powerful works that illuminated the truths of our journeys. Lee Laa Ray Guillory submitted work that moved our spirits and hearts, with a weighty context that carries it on into a future of widening and illuminating the Black Trans experience and its artistry.”

The Night Before The Hurricane, 2020. Lee Laa Ray Guillory.

While fellow Illuminations Grant Judge photographer Texas Isaiah commented, “Lee Laa Ray Guillory has shown exceptional insight into the interiority of Black mysticism and alternative photographic practices. Her profound methods will insert her into a contemporary visual history filled with heartfelt and inventive image-makers who are changing how we witness ourselves and each other.”

Lee Laa Ray Guillory deploys ritual based photographic and performance work to reveal the presence of transgenerational trauma among Black femmes in rural Louisiana. In Guillory’s deeply intimate and enigmatic photographic work, meticulously staged embodied practices such as hair maintenance and oral tradition are magnified through enchanting lighting and cool hues. Dense braids often dangle divinely from above, threading together quiet moments of reflection. Other times, coils of hair are clutched in outrage. Documenting Black femmes in meditation, enraged states, and all that lies in between, Guillory’s cathartic photographs illuminate the healing potential within the sacred.

The Sound of a Mothers Daughter, 2021. Lee Laa Ray Guillory.

Guillory inherited rituals of hair maintenance, oral mythologies, and alternative photographic practices, serving as the foundational elements of her work. Her multifaceted art making practice is incited by Louisiana’s religious history of European, Indigenous, and Afro-diasporic spiritual syncretization. Her practice follows the tradition of art as ritual, with past works offering divination to the Mississippi River watershed, ancestral veneration via self portraiture, immersive photo-based installations, and spirit led photography.

On receiving the 2021 Illuminations Grant, Lee Laa Ray Guillory comments: “Winning this grant will afford me the financial aid necessary to continue my photographic research which aims to interrogate both the spiritual intimacies of Black Southern Femme ecosystems and the ancestral veneration practices we often employ as a means of collective survival against white supremacist patriarchal capitalist regimes. This award will directly fund the completion of my forthcoming work,“This is My Boy Which Was Broken for You,” an image and text based book artifact that channels the voices of my late maternal grandmother and the femmes of my matrilineal bloodline. This book pays homage to the fallen matriarchs of the Black Acadiana region by weaving personal diaries, family portraits, childhood illustrations, regional lore, and sacred text to illuminate rural Louisiana’s complex relationship to colorism and the sexual exploitation of black femme bodies. I am beyond humbled by this award and feel honored to be recognized by Queer|Art.” 

Sashas Rite of Passage, 2020. Lee Laa Ray Guillory.

As the second annual winner of the Illuminations Grant for Black Trans Women Visual Artists, Lee Laa Ray Guillory was selected from a pool of applicants hailing from 17 different states. The judges, who were chosen by Queer|Art to review applications for the national grant include visual artists, performers, and filmmakers from around the country: Connie (Girl) Fleming, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Texas Isaiah. Developed and named in partnership with Mariette Pathy Allen, Aaryn Lang, and Serena Jara, this annual grant draws attention to an existing body of work, sheds light on the under-recognized contributions of Black trans women visual artists, and provides critical support to their continuing work. 

In addition to Lee Laa Ray Guillory, four other visual artists were acknowledged as finalists for this year: Golden, Yasha Lelonek, Glori Tuitt, and Jhona Xaviera.

Golden, I’m searching for & from freedom, 2021. Courtesy of Queer Queer|Art.

Finalist Golden (they/them) is a black gender-nonconforming trans-femme photographer, poet, & community organizer raised in Hampton, VA (Kikotan land), currently residing in Boston, MA (Massachusett people land). Golden is the recipient of a Pink Door Fellowship (2017/2019), an Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Luminaries Fellowship (2019), the Frontier Award for New Poets (2019), a Best of the Net Award (2020), a Pushcart Prize nomination (wildness, 2019 & Glass Poetry, 2020), a City of Boston Artist-in-Residence (2020-2021), a Mass Cultural Council Fellowship in Photography (2021), & a Women Photograph Project Grant (2021). Their work has been featured on/at Shade Literary Arts, the Offing, Button Poetry, Vogue, Buzzfeed, i-D, Interview Magazine, the Boston Globe, & elsewhere. Golden holds a BFA in Photography from New York University (2018)

Yasha Lelonek, La Grande Odalisque, 2021. Courtesy of Queer Queer|Art.

Finalist Yasha Lelonek is an actor, model, director, multimedia visual artist, and hot girl moving the world. Yasha holds a BFA in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of The Arts. Originally from Queens Village, New York and raised in the Atlantan suburbia, she is now based in Brooklyn. She is the director and star of the multimedia film short Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair, creator of the painted-photographs Happy Birthday Gia Love and The Muses, author of the choreopoem FIEBRE, and star of the upcoming short films Pretty Boy and Las Tres Chicas.

Glori Tuitt, Cats Cradle, 2021. Courtesy of Queer Queer|Art.

Finalist Glori Tuitt is a Painter and Illustrator based in the Bronx, New York. A graduate from Purchase College with her B.F.A in Painting + Drawing her work focuses on the intersections of race, religion and pop culture in relation to the cultivation of identity. She is dedicated to the centering of black trans bodies in the arts and has collaborated with many social justice organizations hoping her practice will return ownership of trans form to trans artists. Ultimately seeking to both deify and humanize the black trans experience.

Jhona Xaviera, sol naciente, 2019. Courtesy of Queer Queer|Art.

Finalist Jhona Xaviera Fabian (they/she) is a Dominican-American, Boston-based multimedia chimæra who weaves together visual and performing arts into stories that embody the multiplicities of their Afro-Caribbean trans experience. They received a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in 2020 and have infiltrated gallery, performance, research, and virtual spaces in Massachusetts and North Carolina. As their muse, guide, and highest self, they channel Asyra: the many-faced goddess you may only wish to worship.

Mariette Pathy Allen is a photographer of transgender, genderfluid, and intersex communities. Moving from painting, a solitary activity, to photography, Allen has been documenting the transgender community for over four decades. In 1978, on the last day of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Allen met Vicky West, a trans woman she befriended and through whom she was first invited to Fantasia Fair, a transgender conference where she would serve as official photographer. She went on to author several books that have brought visibility to transgender communities across the world including Transformations: Cross-dressers and Those Who Love Them (1989), Masked Culture: The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade (1994), The Gender Frontier (2004), TransCuba (2014), and Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Burma and Thailand (2017).  Learn more about Mariette Pathy Allen and the creation of the Illuminations Grant here.

Aaryn Lang is a Black, Ohio-born consultant, writer, public speaker, and media personality. Miss Lang’s primary focus is in championing the social, economic, and political well being of the transgender community, specifically the needs of Black transgender women. Throughout her career, Lang has been a central figure in Black social justice movements in the United States. She was a co-founder of the Ohio branch of the Trans Women of Color Collective, and a key part of the Black Lives Matter network since its inception. Currently, Miss Lang is developing IGABI Consulting, a consulting practice where she will guide individuals and organizations in moving toward a more just world for Black Transgender people. She aims to use her skills as an organizer, facilitator, and content creator to advise philanthropic entities on how to best shift resources to the Black trans community.

Serena Jara is a multidisciplinary artist working in photography, video, drawing, and sound. In her photos, she reflects on visibility as a tool used to both empower and manipulate trans people, creating staged portraits to complicate tropes of assimilationist representation. Referencing cinematic imagery and celluloid glamour, she explores the limits of a visual culture dominated by cisgender interpretations of trans experiences. Her work has been featured in institutions such as MOMA PS1, Fundación del Centro Cultural del México Contemporáneo, Dixon Place Theatre, and Cuchifritos Gallery, as well as online publications such as DIS, V Magazine, Refinery 29, and Mic. For the past two and half years, Jara has been working with Mariette Pathy Allen, archiving and developing new pathways for access to her work, advising closely on the management of her legacy, and supporting the development of the Illuminations Grant for Black Trans Women Visual Artists.

Connie (Girl) Fleming is a performer, model, stylist, fashion illustrator, and undeniable New York City legend. As a renowned stage performer, she has graced iconic nightlife venues like the Palladium, the Tunnel, and the Pyramid; performed in various videos for George Michael, Chic, and Jody Watley; and appeared in the opening montages for Saturday Night Live and MTV News. Connie’s status as a fashion icon and cultural muse has led her to model for Thierry Mugler, Vivienne Westwood, and Andre Walker across New York and Paris. A charter member of the House of Field and a Mistress of Ceremonies at Jackie 60, Connie began her reign as one of New York’s most sought-after gate-keepers when she worked the door at Eric Conrad’s Poop at the Supper Club. Her inimitable fashion drawings have been used to illustrate costumes for Beyoncé, Anastasia, Swarovski, and “The Devil Wears Prada,” among others. Today, Connie splits her time between various artistic endeavors, and works as a runway coach, producer, and casting director for several fashion brands in New York and abroad.

Lyle Ashton Harris has cultivated a diverse artistic practice ranging from photography and collage to installation and performance art. His work explores intersections between the personal and the political, examining the impact of ethnicity, gender, and desire on the contemporary social and cultural dynamic. His work is included in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and has been exhibited internationally as well as in the Venice Biennale, the Bienal de São Paulo, and most recently at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, presented on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Cinéma du Réel. He was the 2014 recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 2016. Harris’s multimedia installation Once (Now) Again, was included in the 78th Whitney Biennial, his three-channel video work Ektachrome Archives (New York Mix), 2017, was acquired by the Whitney Museum, and an artist monograph titled Today I Shall Judge Nothing That Occurs was published by Aperture in 2017. The artist currently lives and works in New York City and is a Professor of Art and Art Education at New York University.

Texas Isaiah is a visual narrator based in Los Angeles, Oakland, and NYC. The intimate works he creates center the possibilities that can emerge by inviting individuals to participate in the photographic process. He is attempting to shift the power dynamics rooted in photography to display different ways of accessing support in one’s own body. Texas Isaiah’s work has been exhibited in numerous spaces such as UTA Artist Space (LA), Fotografiska (NYC), Aperture Foundation Gallery (NYC), Studio Museum in Harlem (NYC), Hammer Museum (LA), Residency (LA), Charlie James Gallery (LA), and The Kitchen (NYC). Selected interviews, articles, and commissions include The New York Times, LA Times, Adweek, Artforum, Them, The FADER, VSCO, Vice, LALA Magazine, and Cultured Magazine. He is one of the 2018 grant recipients of Art Matters and the 2019 recipient of the Getty Images: Where We Stand Creative Bursary grant. 

Queer|Art was born out of the recognition of a generation of artists and audiences lost to the ongoing AIDS Crisis, and in a profound understanding that one of the many repercussions of that loss has been a lack of mentors and role models for a new generation of LGBTQ+ artists. Founded in 2009 by filmmaker Ira Sachs, Queer|Art serves as a ballast against this loss and seeks to highlight and address a continuing fundamental lack of both economic and institutional support for LGBTQ+ artists. Our mission is to provide individuals within our community with the tools, resources, and guidance they need to achieve success and visibility for their work at the highest levels of their field. 

The current programs of Queer|Art include: the year-long Queer|Art|Mentorship program; the long-running Queer|Art|Film series, held monthly at the IFC Center in lower Manhattan; and Queer|Art|Awards, an initiative of grants, prizes, and awards that provides various kinds of direct support—monetary and otherwise—to LGBTQ+ artists.

A list of the intergenerational community of artists supported and brought together by Queer|Art includes: Silas Howard, Jennie Livingston, Matt Wolf, Hilton Als, Sarah Schulman, Pamela Sneed, Justin Vivian Bond, Jibz Cameron, Trajal Harrell, John Kelly, Geoffrey Chadsey, Everett Quinton, Geo Wyeth, Angela Dufresne, Nicole Eisenman, Avram Finkelstein, Chitra Ganesh, Pati Hertling, Jonathan Katz, Tourmaline & Sasha Wortzel, Jess Barbagallo, Morgan Bassichis, Monstah Black, Yve Laris Cohen, Troy Michie, Tommy Pico, Justin Sayre, Colin Self, Jacolby Satterwhite, Rick Herron, and Hugh Ryan, among many others.

Website: www.queer-art.org Twitter: @queerartnyc Instagram: @queerart Facebook: @queerartnyc

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