A Conversation With Daniella Brito, an Afro-Latinx Activist Artist
Daniella Brito is an interdisciplinary Dominican-American artist and writer based in New York City. Manipulating representations of the black “female” figure in her work, she disrupts the notion of a static identity politics by reimagining a de-gendered body and landscape.
Galore: What does an Afro-Latinx identity mean to you? How do you embody it?
Daniella Brito: As a member of the Dominican Diaspora in New York City, my relationship to my own Blackness is one profoundly marked by Afro-Latinidad, an identity confounded in the merging of Latinx cultural practices and African Diasporic lineage and heritage. Afro-Latinidad is also about the politics of migration, in particular the ways that adopted home countries, cultural customs, and language impact a cultural identity throughout time. As a third generation American, I was raised with parents who grew up in New York City and grandparents who migrated from the Dominican Republic in the late 1960s. Growing up, I often felt at the fringes of Black American culture and Dominican culture — not fully integrated into either cultures. My art practice has been a means of making sense of this in between space. In my painting and image-making practices I am drawn to bright hues that connote surreal, other-worldly landscapes, ones that at times are drawn from existing neighborhoods I’ve lived in across such as New York City, Berlin, Havana, and Oberlin.
Galore: How does identity politics and intersectionality intersect with your artistic practice?
Daniella Brito: My current body of work renders the decentralized protests and acts of resistance across the country sparked by the recent murders of unarmed Black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, and others committed by the police. As an Afro-Latinx, queer and non-binary person, these murders have been deeply painful to process, however, I do not see them be abnormal. The excessive force and violence that is enacted on Black and Brown bodies in the United States is wrongfully normalized and accepted as truth across media platforms and cultural production especially in the United States.
Galore: What are some of the motifs that you have included in your most recent work?
Daniella Brito: In my work, I seek to subvert the often dehumanizing representations of Black and Brown bodies across media platforms by rendering Black protestors, activists, and organizers in all their rage and fury. I have found inspiration in many of the photographs of protestors looting and demolishing public property in the fight to be heard and recognized.
Daniella Brito: I am also deeply inspired by Audre Lorde’s 1981 essay “The Uses of Anger,” which considers anger as a productive entry point In organizing against white supremacist power structures. The intersections of the markets of my own personal identity as a Black trans person, have impacted the particular lad ways in which I render the human body. Through my figures, I neutralize and degender the body so as to call attention to the ubiquity of anger across the gender spectrum within the Black community.
Galore: Apart from your activism art you have created in the last week, your work takes different forms and mediums. Your website states that you are manipulating the representation of the black “female.” Could you tell me more about this work? What does gender identity represent to you?
Daniella Brito: As I was beginning to come to terms with my own nonbinary identity, I found it helpful to reimagine the traditional Black female form — a figure that is often assigned a number of problematic tropes in mainstream media, as one free of these stifling associations. In earlier work my choice of palette played a huge role in reimagining a degendered figure. Bright reds and vibrant orange hues helped me situate my figures in surreal, dreamlike spaces, sometimes reminiscent of places I’ve visited or dreamed of. Today, Black speculative fiction has greatly informed my practice and the ways I present gender. In the work of writers like Octavia Butler and Jewelle Gomez, speculative fiction is a dynamic format for reimagining gender and exploring the potential that lies within otherworldly creatures to disrupt human-made structures like white supremacy. As a non-binary person that is often perceived as a cis (assigned female at birth) woman, gender is an identity marker that I intend to disrupt daily. Though I identify in many ways with Black femininity, I also identify with boyhood and masculinity. Gender is a factor that is ever changing for me and the ways that I engage with gender in my work are constantly in flux.
Galore: Which projects have you created that are emblematic of your queer and non binary identity?
Daniella Brito: I am currently working on a series of digital drawings that seek to render queer intimacy in an era of social distancing. For many queer and trans people of color, nightlife spaces are sanctuary spaces, environments were folks are free to congregate with chosen family. With clubs closed across the world, queer folks now have to explore other means of connecting. I am interested in investigating the ways that marginalized folks continue to convene when physical intimacy is no longer an option.
Galore: In what ways do your different art mediums serve to evoke different sentiments or purposes?
Daniella Brito: Across video, photography, digital and oil painting I intend to evoke similar moods. I am interested in creating images as well as moving images that evoke the landscape of affects experienced by queer people of color (QTPOC). Employing a vibrant color palette across mediums, I portray intimate moments of QTPOC joy. I find these moments of queer ecstasy to be incredibly special especially given the often stifling social paradigms that attempt to negate queer identities.
I had often expressed to close friends that the revolution was coming, that narrative unfolded quicker than I could have imagined. This is a civil war between the police state and unarmed citizens. People of all intersectional identities have joined together to meet the face of oppression face to face in the streets. People are saying to them “these are the structural impediments you have placed upon us for 400 years, stop killing us, stop exploiting us, stop conditioning us to unsuitable living situations.” Instead of protecting its citizens and upholding the values of equality, liberty and justice, the police will rather beat, shoot, run over, pepper pray tase, arrest, and murder people to uphold a racist patriarchy. This is the image of America. Do not be fooled by cops taking a knee, that is a distraction from the reality that the system was not created to uphold any of our rights or values. There are cops looting so that the media can blame that on the protestors.
The beauty of 2020 is that everyone can document the revolution even if it won’t be televised. They tried to send a signal to the world that they can censor our freedom of speech when they arrested the CNN reporter, Omar Jimenez, and his crew. They are trying to send a message to New York that the police has any right to do what they must do to impose curfews and Martial Law. Including inflicting violence on its citizens. But we will not be deterred nor will we be fooled. We all have a platform, speak up
A CALL TO ACTION:
This post is a call to action to all my Black and Afro-Latinx artists, please keep creating. We are the generation that will set the foundation for this century’s evolution of Black consciousness and expression. The revolution is now, and we must all be engines of the cultural revolution so that we represent our essence and not the stereotypes of the racist patriarchy. This is not a light task. Be careful with yourselves. Self preservation is the greatest form of resistance. I am now accepting Black and Afro/Latinx diasporic works. I am also accepting work from any one who holds different identity backgrounds, and is in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Submissions (works and an artist statement of purpose) can be emailed to Shirley Reynozo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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