Agitprop! was a show at the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at The Brooklyn Museum. The show happened in three waves. Beginning with twenty artists in the first wave, those artists/collectives nominated twenty artists/collectives for the second wave, and that second wave nominated artists/collectives for the third wave. The first wave of the show opened in November of 2015.
Dyke Action Machine (Sue Schaffner and Carrie Moyer), a collective in the first wave, nominated me to exhibit my work in the second wave. This was a profound honor for me.
When thinking about who/what I wanted to put forth, I had a few ideas, but ultimately wanted to have an artist or collective that continued the legacy of of political feminist art and created work that existed in and out of the institution. Visual AIDS, an organization I've worked with before on quite a few projects, is doing provocative and critical work work in NYC and beyond to foster a myriad of exhibitions, panels, and events that open dialogues about the on-going AIDS epidemic and to support artists living with HIV and preserve the legacies of those that have passed away. I have deep respect for the work they do, the community they create and conversations they enable.
An on-going project of Visual AIDS has been their PLAY SMART series: small packets that contain condoms, lube and three different cards that are given away at Visual AIDS events and spaces throughout the city. The cards have a "pin-up" on one side and facts or information--usually about prevention and testing on the other. Visual AIDS has produced five editions of PLAY SMART. The first three focused on cis gay men, the fourth highlighted trans men and the fifth was the "Queer Threads" edition (I designed a card and a patch for this that can be viewed in the project section of this website.)
I had wanted to see a PLAY SMART that centered women for a long time. Too often women/trans and GNC people and their health concerns are sidelined when it comes to the on-going AIDS epidemic (and pretty much everything else, if we're gonna be real). Agitprop! provided an opportunity to create a project that would be part of an exhibition that also exits the institution and circulates knowledge, art, activism and safer sex tools into the outside world. This tactic circles back to collective like Dyke Action Machine who plastered their art in the street as an act of political visibility in the 1990s.
Furthermore, this project presented the opportunity to assemble an exceptional group of artist/activist collaborators, people that I've always wanted to work with, who impact their communities and beyond. The artist/activists collaborators featured on the PLAY SMART cards are: Beverly Bland Boydston III, Kia LaBeija, Reina Gossett, Sarinya Srisakul, and Jessica Whitbread. Artist collaborators Alice O'Malley and Sue Schaffner (who is one half of Dyke Action Machine, and brings the project full circle) provided some of the photography. Additionally, artworks of LaBeija and Whitbread are featured on four of the nine cards.
These women are very bad-ass, fierce group. Each and everyone of them is an artist and activist, though their work and areas of focus are powerfully and wonderfully different. All of them bring multiple and intersectional identities into their work. It felt important to me to have images of women on the cards, as previous PLAY SMART packets featured pin-ups of men. Interestingly the project features five images of women (trans/cis and GNC) which echoes the poster in the show by Dyke Action Machine that plasters a wall which features five butch women.
When brainstorming about the project with Jessica Whitbread, Beverly Bland Boydston III, Kia LaBeija, and Alex Fialho, Programs Manager of Visual AIDS, we decided that the information on the back of the cards would address prevention and testing, information about prevention specifically for women of trans experience, and the connections between reproductive justice and HIV. We also wanted the packet to celebrate desire and be resolutely sex positive. And though this particular edition centers women, it felt important that the packs be accessible to people of many diverse and unique sexualities, genders, and physiques. Along with external condoms and lube, these safer sex/desire packs also include an internal condom.
Elizabeth Marie Rivera did the graphic design for the cards and Jean Foos designed a Play Smart Poster that was displayed in the exhibition. Collaborators in Jessica's artworks are listed in the artist roster for the piece--they are Morgan Page and Jamie Q from Canada and Tania Anderson from the US.
Part of my motivation for this project was to get as many trans, cis and gender non conforming women into the museum as possible and to get them PAID. I wanted to throw off the usual disparities of who is represented in museums and the economic injustice that comes with it.
Of course, of equal importance was continuing to have conversations in many facets about HIV and women of trans, cis and gnc experience. This, for me, was a lot about visibility. While the cards will provide some of this in and out of the museum, we're also working with the curators to have a poster display of the images and information from the cards.
An event in conjunction with the Play Smart project, WOMEN, ART, AIDS AND ACTIVISM: HERE THEN, HERE NOW, occurred on June 4th, 2016. This was an intergenerational and multimedia evening of performance, presentations, and dialogue highlighting the experiences of women artist-activists from the 1980s to the present. Women, Art ,AIDS and Activism featured Joy Episalla (ACT UP), Kia Labeija (GrenAIDS), Jessica Whitbread (ART AIDS ACTION), Egyptt Labeija (TransJustice, Audre Lorde Project), Sue Schaffner and Carrie Moyer (Dyke Action Machine).
Many thanks to the artist/activist collaborators for sharing their portraits, art and words, our fantastic photographers, the graphic designers, the incredible team at Visual AIDS and the curators at Sackler Center for Feminist Art who enabled this project.