Last July, I was part of a radical experiment in peer-based education and mutual support called Queer Art School. Queer Art School widens ideas and opens up access for those who, for reasons of race, class, gender, age, disabilities or other oppressive systems, have been left out and denied the confidence, recognition, and support to name themselves and be seen as a queer artist. It troubles notions of gatekeeping and teacher-student power dynamics by fostering cross-generational artistic relationships that honor knowledge transmission among & between artists at every stage of their practice, regardless of age, education, or how long they have named themselves as an artist. It was an honor to be among a cohort of 11 artists, who spent three weekends exploring who they be in this great big cosmos and sharing their art and being with others. I was transformed.
One activity we did was "Who am I?" We invited artists to focus in on the here and now as a portal for exploration. We also shared some simple prompts that can get juices flowing. Artists could create in any medium. Whatever they created would be shared with their peers. They could provide context or not. They were in complete control.
It is important to me that whatever I ask of others, I also ask of myself. So I took the opportunity to really dig into who I am here and now on July 22, 2023, on Yelamu, which is also called San Francisco.
I start by creating an altar on my coffee table. To lay it out, I use a map that's helping me understand the relationships and dynamics of how I make meaning of the chaos of this cosmos. I then lay nine runes on top of the various positions on my map, and encircle it with the remaining 16 runes. I turn each of the nine runes over and pondered their meanings, positions, relations, and dynamics.
Then, I grab my phone and snap photos of the altar and each of the runes. The phone's camera lens acts as a filter, creating both a flattening of the image and an opportunity to see things anew. I go back and forth between the photo and the altar seeing what I notice in each. I let my being seek connection wherever it resides.
Next, I pick up my iPad and start mapping my reflection. I ask myself, "who am I," and they respond, "Who I am is who am I." They know me too well; this sparks further questions.
My pencil races furiously over the iPad, and questions, symbols, and maps unfurl. This is so familiar, this spiraling into and out of self. Everything flows so effortlessly it feels almost like mania. But it is not mania. It is spirit finding its way out through my hand and into the spirals and words offering insight into the here and now of July 22, 2023, on Yelamu, which is also San Francisco.
The slideshow below is what I shared with my peers at Queer Art School on July 22, 2023, from Yelamu, which is also San Francisco, and sharing it with them brought immense joy for I knew I was with my tribe. I did not need to explain or defend who I am. I was given space to express my being, and it was received with grace. All of me was received with grace. This, to me, is the deep power of queer and trans artists: we have the power to create our beings and our realities individually and collectively.
Queer Art School is a manifestation of what is possible when we co-create something by, for, and with our fellow Black, Indigenous, brown, immigrant, disabled, white-allied, poor, young and old queer and trans artists across geographies. They follow in the tradition of Temporary / Queer Autonomous Zones, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Each One, Teach One models. Nothing about it is new or innovative. Rather, it is sitting together in circle around the fire talking story. It is mutuality in action, which we experience as queer love. It is an expanding of our collective queer cosmos, both folding and unfolding.
Queer Art School answers, "Who am I," with "Who I am is who are we is who am I is who are we." It is a dance of meaning making, of finding our beings and each other, of connecting with something beyond our singular self.
So let's (continue to) dance (and keep dancing).
Mapping is a tool I've been using since I started working with my peers as a teen in high school. In my 20s, mapping guided the development of the Youth Development Peer Network / Youth Worker: Collective and helped us co-create peer-based models of training, community safety planning, literacy, and media campaigns. I began intentionally using mapping in my exploration of how I understand and make meaning of the cosmos during Be Jason, a fully immersive and participatory installation of Jason Wyman's 42 years of being at Black & White Projects. Through this application (or praxis), I have come to understand there is a paradoxical nature to mapping.
Mapping is a tool of colonization. The USA-specific visual representation and cultural understanding of a "map" is deeply colonized and a map created by someone raised within the USA education system cannot break free of this colonizing mindset; it is conditioned into being. It is also a form of way finding and meaning making, which is something humans across all of space and time have and will continue to engage(d) in.
There is a reason that in each section I mention a date and a location. This is my attempt to call attention to a momentary observation of my cosmos at a specific here and now. Its insights / revelations / wisdoms / illuminations are fleeting, even for me, and to engage with them calls one to take a moment for introspection into being. For to simply consume these maps means you are simply swallowing colonization.
I request that anyone reading this post here and now take actions that do not consciously or unconsciously move closer in proximity to colonization. So please use this only as a guide, as prompts, as a point on your path that aids in you better understanding your being and cosmos and the relations and dynamics betwixt it all.
Slide 1: Some Origins of the Queerly Complex Cosmos
Slide 2: Who Am I is Who I Am, written in pink handwriting
Slide 3: Four single line profile faces in white facing each other. The one on the left has questions, "Who am I? Where am I?" the face on the right has says, "Why oh why? There are so many questions." Between the left and right faces are two curve lines connecting them. In the middle is "Who Am I is Who I am.'
Slide 4: A drawing of some of the symbols and ways I explore these questions including pondering ideas, illuminating introspection, a spiraling path, and the cosmic stars. In the middle is Slide 3.
Slide 5: What I discovered was that this called..., written in white handwriting. Slide 4 is in the middle.
Slide 6: ART, written in pink handwriting and shaped like a heart. Slide 5 is in the middle.
Slide 7: is how we find our selves & each other amidst the chaos of the cosmos, in white handwriting. In the middle is Slide 6.
Slide 8: One map of the cosmos I crafted called [Unfolding] Queer Cosmologies. In the middle is slide 7. It is surrounded by a circle. It is connected to two other circles on its left and right. The left and right circles have three lines extending from them further left of further right, respectively. The left and right circles are also connected by an arch on the top and bottom.
Slide 9: Another map of the cosmos building off [Unfolding] Queer Cosmologies that incorporates the spiral. In the middle is Slide 8. The middle, left, and right circles are now all connected and look like a larger infinity symbol. The left and right circles also spiral in on themselves.
Slide 10: Slide 10 is in the middle and it is connected by lines to circles above, below, to the left, and to the right of it. The top, bottom, left, and right circles all have arches extending from them towards the direction they are placed. The top and bottom circles and connected by two arches that do not intersect the center Slide 10. The left and right circles are connected by arches that do not intersect the center Slide 10. All four outer circles are also connected by arches between them.
Slide 11: The most recent Queerly Complex Cosmos map that shows a meta relationship between things. In the center is the Here Now, which has underneath it Slide 10. It also has what appears to be an explosion under it. Extending from this center is a pink spiral that creates a space over which 8 circles are placed. In the Center Left is What Came Before. In the Center Right is What is Possible. In the Center Top is All Relations. In the Center Bottom is All Ancestors. In the Upper Left is Ideas. In the Bottom Left is Values. In the Top Right is Paths. In the Bottom Right is Dreams. There is an infinity floral loop extending from the Here Now into All Relations, then Ideas, then What Came Before, then What Is Possible, then Paths, then All Relations, then Here Now, then All Ancestors, then values, then What Came Before, then Here Now, then What Is Possible, then Dreams, then All Ancestors, then Here Now, and thus completes the loop. Outside of the pink spiral on the left is The Unknown. Outside of the pink spiral on the right is The Unknowable.
Slide 12: So eye (as a drawing of the eye with Map 11 being the iris and pupil) asked the cosmos, in white handwriting.
Slide 13: Who am I here & now, in white handwriting. Slide 12 is in the middle.
Slide 14: and this is its response on Saturday, July 22, 2023, at 5:00am PST while on Yelamu, aka San Francisco, in yellow handwriting. In the middle is Slide 13.
Slide 15: A drawing of nine spirals in the spaces from the Queerly Complex Cosmos in Slide 11. On top of each spiral is a rune. This drawing is laid on top of a photo of an altar create on July 22, 2023, on Yelamu, aka San Francisco. It has a violet filter over it.
Slide 16: Perth in the position of What Came Before. May we find that which makes us whole in what came before.
Slide 17: Othilla in All That Is Possible. Be still my friend. Quiet your being; slow your breath. Notice what draws your attention in all that is possible. Let go of controlling destiny.
Slide 18: Odin in All Ancestors. Trust that your ancestors of choice and your ancestors of blood and those you have yet to know and even those of whom you will never know remain, have remained, and will remain your roots amidst the chaos.
Slide 19: Algiz in All Relations. Remember comrade that your relations are human and non-human, organic and non-organic, seen and unseen, known and unknown, and you must both seek and protect them in return.
Slide 20: Jera in Ideas. Study. Study. Study. Study. Study. Study.
Slide 21: Raido in Paths. Remain always and in All Ways in dialogue with the One / Path / Way and remain on the path of right action. This is the harmony of two becoming one.
Slide 22: Inguz in Values. Look at what you value. What is feeding your being? What is feeding your spirit? What is feeding your shadows? What are you eating that you should not swallow? (This last question is inspired by Crystal Mason.)
Slide 23: Nauthiz in Dreams. Take stock of your dreams dear one. What do you notice? Is there something consuming them? Is there something missing or something you're avoiding? What are your dreams not revealing?
Slide 24: Kenaz in Here Now. Stay focused on this moment. Remain in the present. Let go of what may be. Quiet all the should have beens. You are simply here now.
Slide 25: A photo of the altar.