By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.
On Saturday, February 19, community-based non-profit organization Caribbean Equality Project (CEP) hosted an opening reception for their Live Pridefully exhibition at the Queens Museum, part of the Museum’s “Year of Uncertainty” (YoU) program. In 2021, the Museum embarked on YoU as a framework for strengthening connections among the Museum, its communities, and constituents.
The program “responds to hyperlocal and international states of precarity that have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the crises of inaction and unaccountability toward racial justice and xenophobia, climate reparations, and income disparity.”
On view through March 5th, the exhibition celebrated “queer and trans Caribbean resilience through a racial justice lens” while simultaneously “fostering critical conversations related to pride, migration, surviving colliding pandemics, and coming out narratives.” According to CEP, the featured individuals in the exhibit “live at the intersections of outdated immigration policies, anti-black violence, racism, homophobia, transphobia, gender-based violence, xenophobia, and misogyny in the United States and throughout the Caribbean region.”
The February 19 program was moderated by Tifa Wine (Ryan Persadie) of Caribbean Equality Project and the University of Toronto. The program included heart wrenching and celebratory book readings from the acclaimed author Rajiv Mohabir, as well as remarks by Catherine Grau of Queens Museum, Richard Ramsundar of The World is Rich Productions LLC, who served as videographer and visual director of the exhibit, and Caribbean Equality Project’s Founder and Executive Director Mohamed Q. Amin.
Ramsundar spoke of the iconic nature of the exhibit’s venue: “This is the cultural heart of Queens. Queens is one of the most diverse places on the planet. And I can’t think of a better place to represent our diversity than that backdrop out there (referencing the Unisphere).”
A high point of the event was its panel discussion including trans rights, gender justice, immigrant rights and LGBTQ rights activists Qween Jean, Rohan Zhou-Lee, Darren J. Glenn, Tannuja Rozario, Theo Brown, and Tiffany Munroe, alongside author Mohabir, all who were featured in the exhibit and photographed by Christian Thane. The panel, moderated by Tifa Wine, addressed YoU’s themes of repair and healing.
Tannuja Rozario, founding board member of South Queens Women’s March began by citing Audre Lorde’s quote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Rozario said, “In my own work, I try to interrogate anti-blackness so much coming from my Indo-Caribbean community and a household where anti-blackness is so ingrained in our history. It’s so ingrained in the systems that’s around us. When I think about repair, I’m often thinking about how we can interrogate those systems that often create a narrative in our minds, such as colonialism, capitalism, imperialism.”
Tiffany Munroe of CEP underscored the paradoxes of empowerment and oppression in speaking of her trans siblings: “I think about what we can do to heal ourselves; what we can do to support each other. It’s great that we can go out there and rally the girls to protest, argue and pushback, but it’s so sad to know that a time comes in the year where we have to sit there and cry for all of these other trans men and women that have been killed, by our own Black and Brown people.”
Highlighting the need for grassroots organizing to be well-funded, Theo Brown of CEP spoke of the systems that run afoul of organizational growth. “One of the things about dismantling the bastions of supremacist ideals and racism and everything that goes against the Black bodies and Brown bodies and the others in this country is that … until this economy and what is left of this democracy works equitably and equally for all of us, it shall work equitably and equally for none of us.”
Profoundly, Qween Jean who hails from Haiti rejected police reform as change and said: “Justice is not happening at the rate we need it to happen. Change is not happening at the rate that we need it to happen. It’s so pervasive because it shows up in the form of police brutality, but it is deeper. It exists even farther in our communities: transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia; all of these things that are byproducts of that racism, byproducts of the anti-blackness; that show we truly do not love the neighbors next to us, whether they be queer, whether they show up in a dress, whether they truly are living the life that they want to live. Justice is a struggle but justice is not impossible.”
As the event’s keynote, Amin, who curated and directed the show, spoke painfully, poignantly and joyfully all at once. Amin reflected on visiting the Queens Museum 25 years prior as his first introduction to an art institution in New York City alongside his late friend and high school classmate DezAnn Romain. “She was a Trinidadian Cleopatra being raised by a single mother, and I was a young closeted Indo-Caribbean transplant,” said Amin, who later dedicated the exhibit to Romain. Romain died of COVID-19 as the first known public school employee to die from the virus.
The afternoon was weaved together with beautiful and thought-provoking cultural dance performances rendered by Sean Kulsum, Justin Hunte, Satwika Reddy. Small bites including West Indian chicken patties, pine tarts, and cheese rolls were served.
The program ended with a guided exhibition tour by Amin. The entryway for the exhibit features a towering, bright and bold 10-foot-tall Moko Jumbie installation, designed by Amin, and Charles Watts of Tropical Fete, as a reimagined Caribbean carnival symbol of queer Caribbean emancipation. The installation was created by Watts, Anoop H. Pandohie, Detoxx Bústi-ae, and Amin. CEP intends to make the exhibit accessible to the public in the coming months through an online platform. To learn more about CEP, visit https://www.caribbeanequalityproject.org.