The Shortest Distance Between Two People is a performance photography project exploring the construction of black queer female masculinity via the father-daughter relationship, and all of its associated frustrations, disappointments and yearnings. In this project, I am inviting black queer women who see themselves as masculine in any way to participate together with their black fathers. It’s always a bit challenging to explain this project exactly, and so I am describing it as part participatory performance project and part documentary photography project. As such, there are two parts to the project:
1) A Conversation – Fathers and daughters who participate together will be asked to first have a private conversation with each other about their masculinities
2) A Portrait – Immediately following this conversation, I will take an environmental portrait to document that this exchange has just occurred
The aim of the project is to explore the complexities of the transmission of black masculinity from father to queer daughter, as well as to challenge stereotypes about black familial homophobia.
The project will then be presented in a solo exhibition opening in September 2018 at Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography in Toronto, Canada.
I am also inviting black queer masculine women to contribute personal and family photographs that document your relationship to your masculinity and your father from any stage of your lives. These photographs will be shown as a wall installation alongside the portraits whenever this project is exhibited in a gallery. Maybe you have a photo of your dad teaching you to play a sport when you were a kid, or maybe you have a photo that just shows your and your dad displaying the same body language. I welcome any and all photographs from women living anywhere in the world, so if you have any that you are comfortable sharing with me, please consider participating.
Though I have always been masculine, the femaleness and the blackness of my body present inherent limitations to my ability to perform masculinity, producing a gap between my expression of masculinity and the dominant white masculinity idealized in Western culture. This is a paradoxical gap for me, because while I detest much of normative masculinity’s codes, values and enactments, this gap also generates various longings that have been present my entire life. My aim is to mine this gap, both to acknowledge the grief that exists within it and to consider it as a productive site of understanding; I am beginning with this project on unpacking how black queer female masculinity is shaped by learning from our fathers.
As research for this project, I invited my own father to have a “father-son” conversation with me about masculinity and being a man; I recorded this conversation for future reference; and then I took our photograph when we had finished talking. In this way, our portrait is a trace of the intimate exchange that occurred between us, and it was a transformative experience for our relationship.
With The Shortest Distance Between Two People, I am now seeking to explore the possibilities afforded by replicating this process with other fathers and daughters. While I am based in Toronto, I have some travel funds and I am available to visit other cities in Canada and the U.S. depending on interest from other communities.
Informed by my background in psychology and social work, my artwork tends to focus on the personal and political possibilities afforded by sharing experiences of negative emotions such as disappointment, loneliness and grief. Since my mother’s death in 2011, I have been exploring grief and loss more thoroughly in my work, and this project was motivated by my revisiting my relationship with my dad when old grief resurfaced from my parents’ divorce in 1980, as I grieved my mother. Many of us have very complicated relationships with our dads, and this project is my attempt to offer an opportunity for risk, for connection and for letting go.
This project is also part of an ongoing thread in my practice in which I am always asking folks to make themselves vulnerable by participating in my work. For example, in It’s Good to Be Needed, I photographed queer women who are ex-partners, but who are not friends, holding hands with each other, and in Parade of Champions, I used still video portraits and audio interviews to explores the grief experiences of three black queer people, following the deaths of their mothers. You can also read more about me and my work on my personal website.
I would like to gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.