Recognizing Black Queer Creators and their Impact for Pride - Part Two

June 30, 2020

Recognizing Black Queer Creators and their Impact for Pride - Part Two

Bill Oberlander, Cameron Scott, Matthew Bock, Dhruv Nanda

This Pride, we want to recognize Black queer activists and creators, many of whom have built and continue to build a better world for all of us. This month, our OBERLAND staff is sharing work by Black queer creators that has shaped our actions as citizens, humans, and advertisers who are fighting against racial injustice.

We asked our team to reflect on Black queer creators as one small step toward being active antiracist. Education is one of countless actions we need and plan to take. By sharing the below, we hope to inspire others in our industry and community to follow suit. 

In the interest of Pride, multiple queer staffers contributed to this. However, we’ve also asked cishet allies to join the convo, because we all can play a part in educating ourselves better as one small step in active anti-racism.

This is part two of a three part series highlighting our staff’s favorite works. See here for Parts One and Three.

Juliana Huxtable: Black trans contributions to nightlife (by Strategy Associate Cameron Scott)
Photo: Benoit Pailley; Courtesy of The New Museum, New York

Juliana Huxtable is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and DJ whose work has been featured at New Museum, Guggenheim and MoMA. Her work spans a wide range of conceptual topics, including black LGBTQI activism, but has always held a certain fascination with the internet and presentation of identity. Always an artist, Huxtable has also been a standout on the New York Nightlife scene. Her party series SHOCK VALUE was an attempt to create an IRL manifestation of what she had felt in online communities. Huxtable’s artworks, music and activism have been influential sources for me to reconsider my coloquial notions of gender and identity and how the world treats those who don’t conform.

In looking deeper into the history of nightlife, specifically DJ-ing, I found that many of the innovators were actually black trans people. The lack of credit given to Black trans individuals, who are often overlooked when white people gain fame, wealth and credit for doing the same thing, is a huge issue. With this in mind, I have set up a monthly donation to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, an organization that fights for the rights of black trans people and named after a central figure in the gay liberation movement that wasn’t given the credit she deserved.

Photo via Ted Thai
James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room: Finding self-acceptance (by Strategy Director Matthew Bock)

Reading James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room awakened me to the powerful intersection of queer and Black experiences and acted as a watershed in the process of my own self-acceptance. Baldwin’s bravery and brilliance catalyzed pride in me and inspired me to push for more inclusion and respect everywhere. He will always be, in my opinion, one of the most impactful American geniuses and I think of him continually in this important time of change for the country.

Hip Hop and Queer Culture in The Get Down: Discovering shared history between hip hop and queer culture (by Partner/Creative Director Dhruv Nanda)

I grew up listening to hip hop in the 90s – and like most straight men – I had very little exposure to queer culture. Much later in life, when I watched “The Get Down” to delve into the birth of hip hop in the Bronx – to my surprise (and delight), I was also educated about queer culture in the Bronx, through Jaden Smith’s character. 

To most people, that’s probably an “okay, so what?” moment. To me, it was kind of cool to see how two counter-culture movements have a shared history, even though they don’t always see eye-to-eye. Perhaps, thanks to the writing on the show we’ll all gain more empathy and appreciation of one another.
 Kehinde Wiley, born in LA, based in NYC, is the first African American artist to paint the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama, commissioned by the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in 2017. And he is also a member of the gay community.

Kehinde Wiley: Challenging old and new styles (by Founder Bill Oberlander)

Kehinde was able to miraculously capture the magic of President Obama sitting in a chair, elbows in his knees, leaning forward with an intense expression. The background, typical of a Wiley painting, is a riotous pattern of lush foliage, with each flower represents the story of our former president, originating from places including Chicago, Hawaii and Kenya.

Wiley earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University. His career as a young gay black painter is based on the stark friction between the painting styles and traditional values of the old world and the one we find ourselves living in today.

Kehinde inspires me to challenge the old ways of doing modern business. His powerful artwork along with his elegant personal style, motivate me every day to work towards reinventing how society spends its time and money with brands, all the while encouraging companies to contribute to the world way beyond the bottom line.

Headline image: Eliel Cruz

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