Lola Flash Has Got Some Stories to Tell

This article is a part of Hyperallergics 2024 Pride Month sequence, that includes interviews with art-world queer and trans elders all through June.

In 1989, photographer Lola Flash sat on the opposite facet of the lens for what would develop into one of many decade’s most iconic photos. Flash, who makes use of she/they pronouns, kisses fellow artist Julie Tolentino in a poster of three queer {couples} and the phrase “Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do,” a marketing campaign launched by AIDS artist-activist collective Gran Fury. The picture was distributed in a mass-mailing and plastered on buses and billboards.

Flash was already deeply concerned within the AIDS activism motion by means of her work with ACT UP, and whereas the photographer has served as a pillar of their neighborhood because the 1980’s, they’ve solely gained acceptance into the museum and gallery world in recent times. This was intentional, they informed Hyperallergic over the cellphone. Below is a condensed model of a dialog that delved into the parental pleasure of turning into a mentor, discovering love, and dawning an area helmet to take into consideration ancestors.

Hyperallergic: Can you discuss your entrance into the New York City artwork world? Did you’re feeling accepted there, and the way has your feeling of acceptance modified all through the many years?

Lola Flash: I bought to the town within the mid-’80s. I met a mural artist named Arnie Charnick, who did loads of murals within the East Village. I had gone to artwork college and thought museums and galleries had been the way in which to go, however Arnie was actually in opposition to that. Since he had murals throughout, he thought he didn’t want to be in galleries, and it was earlier than graffiti or comparable public artwork was proven in museums.

I needed to be like him, so I didn’t need to present my work in museums. I felt that museums had been about white partitions, White folks on the partitions, and White audiences. It wasn’t interesting to me and it didn’t look like a spot I belonged. So for years, I didn’t need acceptance from the artwork world. I needed the alternative, to be sincere. In some methods, I needed to be like a type of artists who dies and their art work is discovered underneath the mattress. It wasn’t about notoriety or fame or me: it was about creating an archive of my pricey neighborhood.

It wasn’t till I turned 60 that I made a decision I needed to make it occur for myself within the artwork world. I had seen a Kerry James Marshall present at The Met, and it modified my ideas on exhibiting my work. The viewers was nonetheless principally White, however there have been some Black folks there, too. Those areas have gotten higher. People had been actually wanting on the work, and one lady was crying.

It made me assume, “Maybe the world is ready to see my work.” I reached out to MoMA and stated, “You need to give me a studio visit”. That was the start of my life now. Once MoMA buys your work, the Whitney needs to purchase it, too. It hasn’t been a landfall, however there’s undoubtedly been a change in the way in which folks greet me and settle for me.

H: Have you been in a position to domesticate relationships with youthful artists who at the moment are seeing your work?

LF: Yes. It’s one of many actually stunning issues that I by no means thought would occur to me. I’m the newly elected president of the board at Queer Arts. I’m tremendous proud to be part of it, and one in all our most stellar applications is our queer mentorship program. The founder Ira Sachs was very conscious that our era, and generations to come, misplaced loads of mentors due to AIDS, he created this group to fill that area.

Felli Maynard is one in all my mentees. They’re an incredible artist. They deliver as a lot to the desk as I do, and it’s been a stupendous relationship that I can’t think about dwelling with out. I’m so pleased with them, identical to a dad or mum can be. I’ve had younger folks come to me with tears of their eyes thanking me for making work that lets them see themselves. I actually cherish every of these moments.

H: Did you will have mentors your self? Who do you see as your friends now?

LF: As for friends, Zanele Muholi is on the prime of my checklist. As for mentors and different friends, the Black photographer Anthony Barboza was one of many first folks I discovered about once I was in faculty. Then Gordon Parks, Carrie Mae Weems, Pamela Sneed, Michelle Agins, Naima Green, Amy Sherald, Simone Leigh, Ajamu X, and plenty of extra. And Joan E. Biron (JEB) — we’re collectively in a group show. We have a lot enjoyable. We’ve been doing the identical factor — specializing in the lesbian neighborhood — however in numerous elements of the world.

The present is unbelievable as a result of, to begin with, it exhibits that lesbians have been right here for a very long time and are available all styles and sizes in our bodies which might be in another way abled. We’ve documented these folks, and I feel that’s actually necessary. When I see queer well-known stars, I typically marvel if they give thought to all of the pioneers like ourselves who made it attainable for them to be out and proud. When I used to be a younger lesbian within the ’80s, so lots of my associates had been nonetheless within the closet.

It’s so necessary for girls, and particularly Black ladies and queer ladies, to proceed pushing the following era ahead due to the patriarchy. Queer males photographers have been exhibiting because the ’70s and ’80s, however so far as I can see, they haven’t at all times stated, “Come on over.” But I see that ladies are doing that.

I’ve loads of issues to be glad about. My household has at all times been pleased with me they usually’re glad that I’m glad as a lesbian. They have by no means informed me to develop my hair lengthy like the remainder of my cousins. They’ve at all times been supportive. It’s the explanation I’m in a position to proceed doing this work, even when it isn’t obtained in a approach that I like; I’ve loads of household and associates that I can fall again on once I simply want like slightly push to get again up and preserve doing my factor.

H: What was it like to create your SALT and LEGENDS sequence?

LF: Legends is a tribute to older queer people in our neighborhood. Some are literally on view now at Howl! Gallery. The journey has been very cathartic. I’ve been pondering of individuals like myself who didn’t have queer position fashions, so I began photographing them. We didn’t have any of the issues younger folks have now, like PREP commercials and guys kissing on TV. It’s humorous as a result of virtually everyone in that sequence doesn’t assume they’re a legend.

It continues SALT, which is devoted to my mother and my grandma as a result of I by no means actually took correct stunning images of them with my 4×5 digicam. You can’t go backward and may solely go ahead, so I’m ladies who’re over 70. Sometimes I sit on the bus and assume to myself, “I wonder what that woman did.” I do know I certainly have some tales to inform.

I take into consideration the truth that these ladies, who had been thought of so very important once they had been younger, turned 25 or 30 and form of bought thrown out to pasture. I needed to remind them of their magnificence. When somebody is available in entrance of my digicam, they know that I feel they’re stunning. For two hours of their day, they will understand their magnificence and undertaking it. I’m going to begin it again up once more this summer season.

For us Black folks and queer folks, significantly Black folks, it’s as if we’ve a goal on our again. It’s loads to be a Black particular person in America and to nonetheless be alive and have a way of satisfaction, and it’s one thing one can solely try this if they’ve their neighborhood round them. There’s an actual lack of older Black queer mentors in my life, so if anybody’s on the market studying, I could possibly be your mentee for slightly bit.

H: What does Pride Month imply to you?

LF: It’s the month once I actually really feel complete. It makes me fantasize about how completely different my life can be if queers had been the bulk.

It offers me the sensation of what it is likely to be if the world was homosexual quite than straight. Can you think about this being the norm? It would simply be so wonderful to have the opportunity to simply stroll round holding arms along with your girlfriend wherever you need to, kissing wherever you need to kiss.

H: Do you will have a favourite {photograph}?

LF: Probably the {photograph} of me and Julie from the Kissing Doesn’t Kill marketing campaign. It’s such an iconic picture now, however we didn’t understand that in 1989 after we modeled for it. Sometimes it actually doesn’t really feel like me, as a result of we’re such symbols. But it does make me glad that they selected us. We had been so engrossed in ACT UP. We’re nonetheless associates; Julie’s one my relations now. I even have an image of my nice grandfather that’s additionally fairly wonderful. He’s with Booker T. Washington and Madame C. J. Walker.

H: What are you engaged on now?

LF: I at all times work on loads of issues on the identical time, however I’m persevering with my Afrofuturism sequence Syzygy. I began the sequence in Woodstock, and since there aren’t loads of Black folks there, I noticed that I wanted to be the protagonist. It’s been enjoyable to be taught from my associates who’re efficiency artists and take into consideration my ancestors.

It’s a narrative I weave once I’m occupied with the previous, however I’m additionally occupied with the current. I’m sporting a jail uniform, occupied with all of the individuals who appear to be me who’re incarcerated. Then the helmet speaks to the longer term. I’ve additionally been doing loads of grant writing, as a result of I really need to go to Senegal to simply actually retrace my ancestors’ footsteps. I feel it’s going to assist add a way of authenticity to the sequence.

In some ways, the sequence comprises all the themes I’ve labored on to date — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, White supremacy, and so on. You can examine artwork and have your notes and analysis, however on the finish of the day, there’s some form of magic that slips in. Maybe it’s the ancestors. I’m sitting on their shoulders huge time.

I suppose I’d additionally like to put on the market that I’m engaged now to Marcia Griffiths. I hated the entire thought of us turning into like straight folks and getting married. But once you discover your one, you need to make it everlasting. I at all times inform the younger folks, “Never say never.”

H: Who proposed?

LF: I did. I had a crush on her within the ’90s once I was in London, then she got here to my present there in 2019. I assumed, “Oh, here’s that girl I had a crush on.” That’s the way it started. It’s form of candy.

I simply really feel so blessed to have had this lengthy life. I see my associates coping with diseases, and I’m nonetheless fairly wholesome. It’s a blessing. When you get to my age, you’ll assume, “Oh, that’s what Lola was talking about.” Don’t rush it as a result of it’s undoubtedly not one thing you need to be occupied with till you get to that age. It’s a wasted effort. If I’ve one message for the younger people on the market, it’s to reside within the current. Obviously, put together for the longer term, however don’t go loopy about it.

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