Location: Los Angeles, CA, United States
This photographic series includes portraits depicting my relationship with my grandmother—Mima, as I call her. Through these images, I am investigating how representations of the high-femme has influenced my own relationship to blackness and black femininity. While navigating an identity that has been historically ungendered, this body of work brings into question the tensions between celebrating a feminized gender expression, as well as the negative tropes that these confines perpetuate.
The selected works and project carry a heavy personal narrative; a story in which my grandmother has taught me how to behave and pass in white spaces. Such teachings have implied capturing the intrigue of a white audience—particularly the gaze of white men; a performance otherwise known as the “diva”. When I was a young girl, I felt like I could never live up to the expectations I believed my grandmother held for me. I pushed back, vowing never to become even the slightest reflection of my Mima. Now, as I look in the mirror, I find myself most like her in the way I present and hold myself—particularly within group settings. I also see a survivor of the segregated south, a woman who was able to achieve the intangible feat of class ascension, and a person who is not afraid of sexualized expression. I see my familial ties to a plantation in Baton Rouge, a migration to Las Vegas, and manipulations of rich, white, casino men as a form of reparation. I see a history of trauma, love, and loss etched onto my skin with paint and braided into my hair with beauty-supply bundles. I see me.
These teachings are tools of survival. They have carved spaces—even if they are small and suffocating—for me and my grandmother to navigate through. They have commanded attention, pushed through crowds, and made noise—even if it is a stifled scream. They simultaneously protect us and hurt us. It is a never-ending negotiation we make every single day. Fabulous, yet flawed.