Not Your Mother’s Catholic Frescoes: Radiant Portraits Of Queer People Of Color

May 28, 2015

Photographer Gabriel Garcia Roman’s portraits feature friends and acquaintances, activists and poets, Americans and immigrants — some naturalized, some undocumented.

All of them are queer people of color.

“I wanted to specifically focus on this community because queer and trans people of color are so rarely represented in the art world,” says Roman, who is Mexican-American and also identifies as queer.

The photo series, called “Queer Icons,” evokes the colorful, religious artwork that Roman grew up with. “Because I grew up Catholic in a Mexican community in Chicago, my first introduction to art was religious art,” he says.

He was particularly inspired by the fresco paintings of haloed saints that decorated the walls of his neighborhood church. “I’ve always thought of the halo as something very powerful — it’s like a badge of nobility,” he says.

And because Roman’s subjects are activists and artists who do good for the community, “I wanted to represent them as saints,” he says.

He also wanted to capture their pride and their strength. “I wanted them to be warriors — that’s why a lot of them are looking straight at the camera, saying ‘Here I am, and I’m not going to hide.'”

Some of the images feature poems or prose, written by the subject of the portraits. Roman uses the silkscreen printing method to layer text and photograph with color and pattern.

He has shown this work at several exhibits around the country. As of now, he works on the project in his free time — he works at a market research firm by day.

Like many of the people he has photographed, Roman, 41, says he often grapples with his identity. He moved with his family from Zacatecas, Mexico to the US when he was two years old, and they were undocumented until he was 15. “I grew up in the states always being reminded that I was Mexican,” he says. “When I finally went to Mexico for the first time, when I was 31, everyone there was like ‘You’re not Mexican — you’re American.'”

These images play with feelings of not belonging, and, above all, being seen.

Sonia Guiñansaca is an undocumented poet and community organizer who was born in Ecuador and has been raised in Harlem since age five. She is a board member at NYSYLC, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of undocumented youth.

Today you were reminded that you are not “queer” enough, not “artistic” enough, not “migrant” enough…

Today you cry. Today you write. Today you make love to your queer partner.

Today, all femmed out you disrupt the gaze. Today you love and not just survive!

Emanuel Xavier is an award-winning poet and LGBT rights activist of Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican heritage, based in New York. He’s also chair of the Penguin Random House LGBT Network.

There is a world out there where I belong: loved by a mother and father who understand my dreams who listen to my fears of my older cousin, his touch, or how boys make fun of me in school. There is a world out there where I can grow up to love myself and others like me, where soft spoken boys can speak boldly. I will call it poetry, each memory an inspiration. All this pain, these dismembered & abandoned cars, these empty lots left behind where I knew deep in my heart there is innocence in playing with dolls, reaching for rainbows, book, even mami’s pretty dresses. I will not be alone in this world. I have somewhere to run. I do not know exactly where.

I have no maps or stars to guide me through the night. If it turns out this is my world, maybe I should simply learn to laugh and love and let the others catch up to me instead. – “Runaway”

Julissa Rodriguez is a poet and tattoo artist from the Bronx, NY. Her family is from the Dominican Republic.

Bakar Wilson is a poet and an adjunct professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

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