Black, Brown, Other

As 1 of 5 black creatives at my place of work, I’m constantly feeling displaced. Having to think about my own identity was the impetus for this project. I wanted an opportunity to collaborate creatively with people who felt the same. Instead of forcing a sense of strength or power, I needed to express a sense of vulnerability. To exhale.

People of color spend our whole lives being strong. Having to be the model minority, or exist without expression — the moment you truly reveal yourself it’s too much. (“I didn’t expect you to be ‘urban’ all of a sudden.”)  These photos and interviews explore the burden of being silent. There are so many ways that American life shuts out people of color unintentionally, and this project gave the opportunity for us to decompress all of that through candid talk.

Below is the story of Alexis.


I'm an immigrant. I came to Miami from Cuba in 1995. But moving from Miami to New York to pursue art, that was the really big change. In Miami, I felt less like a minority because I was a Cuban in a city built by Cubans. But the art institutions in New York are very, very white.

I am white passing and I feel like I’ve had privilege because of that. People would just assume I'm a white gay man. But I am non-binary and as trans I faced many obstacles during my time at Parsons. I had to jump through obstacles in order to feel comfortable in art school.

There was this expectancy in terms of resources and materials that I had to have. Money was always a question. All of the white students were in that class with humongous, life-sized prints for any kind of assignment. I would break down and cry to my mostly white professors. I'm just like, well you know, not all of us are capable of doing that. I remember thinking, “Are they going to call me out in the middle class or are they going to talk to me in private?” I even had moments where professors would call me out like, “Well when you go out how much money do you spend on your drinks? Are you buying weed?”

This is New York. There's so much diversity. Why aren't there more people of color teaching at these institutions? I understand that it’s a structural thing in society that people of color just don't have the same opportunities as white people. It's easier for a white artist always having space to be themselves and to show up fully, not really having to be flexible and flex themselves in a way to read a certain space.

My first performance with the MoMA was for the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who does activist projects where she creates organizations for people of color to have more access to the art world, or to have more access to opportunities that are always laid out for white people but are not laid out for us.

I remember talking to her and she said, “When I knew this piece was acquired for the MoMA, I was like everybody has to be Cuban. Because I want to give Cubans jobs. And I want Cubans to be paid the money that they deserve to be paid for this kind of performance.” I remember having a lot of butterflies in my stomach when I got casted for that performance because it was the first time I had something at an institutional level. Working with her really made me feel at ease in that space.
I'm really glad that my first performance at that level was with a Cuban woman artist, because it might have been very different if I was working for a white artist, surrounded by white performers.

I'm really glad that my first performance at that level was with a Cuban woman artist, because it might have been very different if I was working for a white artist, surrounded by white performers.

I recently worked for a white artist for a new performance at the MoMA. So it's interesting to have this conversation, because during my performance in Untitled (Havana, 2000) with Tania, there were moments where I felt racialized by the audience/spectators which were predominately white — though the MoMA took care of us and were very receptive and open to the conversation that was happening as the performance unfolded. We would have a lot of debriefs, talking about the difficulty of performing for a white audience. That piece was about Cuban identity, race, violence and censorship. But the piece I worked on with the Italian-American artist Simone Forti had a predominantly white cast. Which makes me feel outcasted. I mean, I feel like the museum could have done more work to diversify the cast and find performers of color, to have equality in the room at all times. I felt so empowered to be around other Cubans for Tania’s performance, having the total space in our green room to debrief and talk about the differences between us as people of color, and white people and a white institution. With this new performance, I don't. I can’t occupy that space in the museum in the same way.

I've met so many photographers who are black and brown who have talked to me about how they've had to photograph a lot of white people in order to be able to get certain jobs or infiltrate certain spaces. I'm done looking at a twinky white boy that's going to be photographed in all these magazines. I want there to be a huge visibility for people of color. Why do I continuously have to adjust myself? To live in this reality. It's a labor that we have to continuously perform. On a daily level white people don't understand why that's something that we have to talk about. I'm done being treated like a token and an accessory just because it's cute and popular right now. It's just like, “People of color: they're rising and they're shiny.”

I felt like I was racialized at times because a lot of my work is about Cuba and about the intersection between the LGBTQ community and the Cuban community and what diverges from that. There was always an expectancy for me to be the voice or the face for a minority. That's super frustrating. People didn't really know how to approach me or have conversations that didn't feel so binary and rigid. Actually, I'm not here to perform for you. I'm just here to express myself in whatever way that seems fit.

In my daily life, I’m trying to make myself less and less responsible for being a teacher and educating white people on how to actually have a human connection with people of color and not be racist. There will be labor that has to be performed by people of color in order to have a conversation unfold and expand and I think it's being done today. A lot of white people won't have access to that conversation, because it won't intersect with the way that they are navigating the world. I like to think of it as an infiltration of space. As people of color continue to infiltrate white spaces, white people will begin to notice the differences. But that being said, I think white people also have to do the labor. They're currently not taking into consideration the history of people of color. I'm wondering if there's more productive ways where people of color have to perform less.

                          How do we facilitate that?
                                      That's kind of what I'm figuring out.