We spoke with Ashton Sanders about the importance of solitude.
We spoke with Ashton Sanders about the importance of solitude.
The sun beats down mercilessly in Downtown Los Angeles, but inside the studio, it’s quiet and cool. Ashton Sanders speaks with a measured confidence, gently and evenly. Imbued with a sense of humility and clarity, his disposition has an immediately calming effect. And his quietness isn’t shyness; he’s just honest, genuine, and real. Although Ashton arrives with his style on point, as always, he’s ready to put on some fresh looks for our shoot. He embraces the clothing, making each piece his own with that special Ashton Sanders flair. His style transcends mere trend, perched at the intersection of modernity and timelessness. As we speak, he chooses language delicately, using soft tones that fill the space with a quiet self-possession.
“The more I grow through my soul and through my artistry, I find that spending time alone is the most important thing. You need connection, obviously, but we need to live from our truth.” This mentality is the key to his ability to preserve his own truth, to find and savor the quiet moments through the chaos. “Everything around us is so much sometimes. I’ve been able to find confidence within my intuition by taking time to reflect, spending time with myself. I don’t need to have fifty friends to feel that I’m loved.”
Moonlight exploded into the mainstream on October 21, 2016. The film’s Black, Queer narrative still marks it as one of the only movies of its kind to reach such a wide audience, let alone win an Academy Award for Best Picture. Sanders was in college when he was offered the role of Chiron, and he had to rely on his gut to make his next move. “When Moonlight happened, I had to make a decision: Do I stay in school? Or do I take a big leap of faith and leave to pursue this career? I had all these people telling me one thing or another, but my intuition was telling me, you need to do this.” And that clarity comes across when Ashton speaks, as well as when he performs. “Intuition is a godsend. As long as you let your intuition steer you, it may be scary, but it’s alright. Sometimes you hear the voice or you feel the feeling more so than other times, but it’s always there, talking to us.”
Moonlight’s radical success catapulted Ashton Sanders into a new world almost overnight. Finding moments of peace posed a new challenge, as it would for anyone accustomed to a slower pace of life. “I’m constantly adjusting. It’s a work in progress. It’s like working out a muscle. We train our minds and souls to get to that avatar state—that’s an Avatar: The Last Airbender reference—that spiritual realm, where we can find our solitude and peace.” Sanders, with a wisdom that far surpasses his age, has maintained a handle on the speed of it all. “I like to keep to myself. Things move so fast, it’s important to have time to reflect and check into your world. I always make that a number one priority. Silence and stillness are the keys to peace. It’s my time with the universe, with God.”
For anyone who loves Moonlight, to learn that Sanders’s favourite place to find peace is the beach feels beautifully symbolic, almost perfect. There, by the shore, he can take a minute. Relax. Breathe. “The beach has its own energy flow of air, where you feel everything rushing into you when you breathe. The sand creates this soft, stress-free feeling to settle into, relax, melt into it almost. And the ocean water is such a purifying thing. I take all of that in.” Sanders doesn’t go to the trendy beaches in LA. He goes where he won’t be found, and there he finds inner peace within the vastness of the sand and sea.
His oscillation between staying sequestered and being social allows him time to achieve solitude and to reflect. It helps Sanders to keep discovering new truths about himself and the world. “It can feel like a fantasy trip, but constant change is our normal state of living.” But the juxtaposition between being alone and performing is what keeps that energy moving. Ashton became interested in performing at a young age, when he was introduced to The Lion King. In high school, his favourite role was Eddie Murphy’s Jimmy Early in Dreamgirls. “That was so damn fun. It was my ideal role at the time in the musical world.” We talk about New York City and his eyes light up. He says he’s moving there soon. “It’s super important in this chapter of my life to live and experience New York; I just feel like that’s what needs to happen.
That’s where the universe is pulling me, you know? I just feel it.” His intuition is speaking to him again. In a world of constant consumption, where the ego runs rampant, Sanders stands for the direction we should all strive to move in: towards inner peace, towards compassion, towards growth and acceptance. “If we ever feel stuck, we need to figure out ways to keep moving forward in life. Although it can be scary, I’ve always taken those leaps. The best authentic way to grow is through experience.”
When I tell Ashton that I could listen to him talk forever, he laughs. “I honestly hate doing interviews. But it’s comfortable when it’s real, you know? Real shit, real conversation. That’s cool.”
Photo Kelia Anne
Article Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
Interview Satchel Lee & Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
Styling Timothy Chernyaev
A sign of our modern age is an insistence on complexity and contradiction. None of us are any one thing. Billie Eilish, with her raw, rough teen angst imbued with measured emotion, represents a particular duality. She rocks a loose fitted tee and a pair of Nikes that read, “suck my dick,” while also reminding her fans, “not to suffocate [their] loved ones.” She has dropped a single that demands we see her in a crown one day, while late the night before she played the piano in an empty dark room, reminding us that “pain doesn’t go away [we] just get used to it.” Queens like Billie are unconfined by simple vocabulary, unable to be put down by a simple label, comment, or review. And that’s why she can make an audience of thousands jump along, raging in unison to an unforgiving bass. Billie’s vulnerability comes across her music and its dynamic sound, with soft dulcet tones paired with an eye-rolling, middle-fingering “FUCK YOU” irreverence.The subversive romanticism she captures and allows to co-exist with a biting spirit of raw, unabashed youth make Billie Eilish’s unique style a captivating one. The soft vocals that melt over synths in “Ocean Eyes” pose a contrast that only our complex moment could allow. The duality of gentle yet unapologetic makes her a true symbol of the now, and it only leaves us wanting more.
The Christian Siriano Experience
Article by — Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
Photo by— Eva Zar
Styled by — Yên Nguyen
Art Direction — Jasper Soloff
Hair by — Eric Vosburg
Makeup by — Serina Takei
Fashion Assistant — Allie Nanasi
The red dress is gargantuan in both nature and stature. Its ruffles and curves
move and sway and as fabric falls upon fabric, the dress comes to life like an animal unto itself. It’s a living, breathing piece of art, and the designer behind it is about as shy as his vision. As Christian Siriano talks, I can see the wheels turning, the vision unfolding, his dream of a universe springing into being: “I come up with these dreams; I can see how a piece might move without even seeing it walk yet.” Whether it’s a voluptuous red dress or a slim metallic suit, Siriano’s sentiment is steadfast. There is always a bold elegance to his work. It’s in his careful and sharp stitchwork, in his magnificent colors, in his unabashed daring. Siriano’s incredible success over the past ten years has countered a stagnancy in fashion, a world that prides itself on progress and unconventionality while often remaining stuck in the grooves of
the very status quo it seeks to oppose. “I like to pick models that are personally interesting but also powerful,” Siriano explains. “I always felt like it wouldn’t make sense to exclude anybody from that dream world because fashion should be a fun, beautiful, emotional thing.” His insistence on innovation has sent Siriano to the top, solidifying his position as one of the most celebrated queer designers
of the past decade. He is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and most recently included in the TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world. And, thankfully, he never stops. “When it’s calm, I freak out. The grind, the craziness, the constant creating, the overstimulation actually pushes me the most, because each time I make one piece, that one inspires another, and another.” It’s not only desire that keeps Siriano constantly creating, it’s demand. Soriano dressed seventeen women at this year’s Oscars alone, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Who knows what’s coming to the table! One minute we’re making a beautiful dress for a mom going to a wedding, the next it’s something for Beyonce, and the next it’s tour costumes for a new artist. Every single day, it’s something new. That spontaneity is really the best part.”
Siriano grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, and found himself immersed in performance at a young age. He would put on plays and entered training to be a ballet dancer. “I was always into
the fans world of dressing up. That translated into transforming people and their lives, whether it’s for an event or just their daily life.” He followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Shannon, whose eccentricity always stood out: “She would wear tutus and platform shoes and giant hats with feathers, and her hair was always different.” Despite her eccentricity, Shannon was accepted, proving to Christian that he could be himself and do what he wanted. “She definitely inspired me to be confident and forceful.”
It is truly remarkable how Soriano manages to balance so much, especially knowing how demanding and grueling the fashion industry can be. I can’t help but ask him about the elegance with which he juggles his creative output, the business side of his brand, his dynamic personal life, and all the rest. “That is the challenge, every single day. I try to take a beat and feel good every now and then. With any artist, the number one issue is almost never being satisfied. You feel like you always have to do more. I have a hand
in every single piece that we put out, and it can be hard to let things go. It’s an obsession, which can be both good and bad.”
It’s like having a baby, I say. “So many babies! Like a hundred babies every season! Oh my gosh!” he says, throwing up his hands and laughing. “It’s an emotional ride, too. If people don’t like it, or they love it, or if something doesn’t get a response… But as designers, we set ourselves up for instant criticism. That’s the job, which—and I say this to a lot of young designers—is the hardest part. Sometimes fashion can be a thankless world, especially now, because it moves so quickly. Everyone is onto the next event, the next project, the next thing. You don’t have time to sit there and feel proud.”
But Soriano deserves to feel more than proud. The change he has created with his past decade of work is tangible. Fashion has historically predetermined its market: who gets to enjoy what
clothing, the body types and capital one must have to do so. Yet the the world Christian Soriano is creating for us is different. “I’m into everyone. I get really invested in people and am able to connect pretty quickly. That is a big part of it; if you are creating a custom piece for somebody, you have to connect. You have to understand what is happening in their mind because you can tell when somebody feels great in something. Personal identity is all about expressing oneself visually. If you want to wear a beautiful dress, you should be able to, no matter who you are.” And his world is not contained merely to the runway; his new store The Curated NYC is a mini Soriano metropolis, a physical manifestation of that intricate vision inside his head. “We wanted to curate a space that feels like a closet, or even a home, that doesn’t feel unobtainable. It is really important that anybody an come in, no matter what they’re looking for, and find something at all price points.
I wanted the store to feel more like an experience. I think that’s a big part of what is lost in fashion sometimes.”
Christian’s energy is palpable, and even though his mind may be ricocheting between a million places at once, his vision and objective are constantly clear. “I make what I want to make, and I have always done that. Even in the beginning when people judged some of the big ball gowns I did, I have always stuck to what I want to create, and how I want to create for. And I am still one of ht only designers showing a diverse group of people on the runway.” Inevitably, I ask him if he thinks the industry is changing. “I am proud of what we are doing. I get asked all the time why other brands aren’t doing what we are, and I don’t know the answer. It only takes one or two people to really change the business for other people to follow. But sadly, there are very influential people who are just not interested.”
Even so, there is no doubt that Christian Siriano has paved the way for young queer and trans designers on the rise. He is a champion of diversity both on the runway and red carpet; Siriano’s couture, his shows, and his success tell them to move forward with inspiration, intention, and clarity. The rest of the world will just have to catch up. “You have to embrace everything that you love, and really do what you love to do. The number one thing; It takes time. If you are a young creative in any field, you can’t stop because it isn’t exactly what you want it to be right away. You’ve got to stick it out. It took me almost ten years to really get in a good place.” To describe where Siriano has landed thus far “a good place,” is a humble understatement. And, knowing Christian Siriano, it’s only going to get better. “At least fashion isn’t dead yet!”
Photographer—Jasper Soloff, Stylist—Alexandra Dorschner
and Yên Nguyen, Grooming—Shideh Kafei,
Set Design—Frank Oliva, Gaffer—Owen Smith-Clark
Written by Molly Williams
Interviewed by Satchel Lee
For a sample of the trials faced by Black ballerinas, Google “brown pointe shoes.” Until pointe shoe company Gaynor Minden unveiled two shades of brown in 2017, dark-skinned ballerinas invariably wore shoes that did not match their skin tone or were forced to resort to dying their shoes themselves. The prevalence of such micro aggressions reflects the exclusionary underpinnings of ballet culture, which seems built to prevent Black ballerinas like Michaela DePrince from making it to the top.
Still, at twenty-three years old DePrince is a rapidly ascending star. Born in Sierra Leone, DePrince was orphaned as a child during the civil war there, where she also faced discrimination and abuse as a result of vitiligo. Her interest in ballet had been piqued early on; when she was adopted by an American family at a young age, she found the resources to explore her passion, discovering a striking talent along the way. She has successfully stared down not only the racism of her chosen profession, but also so many other obstacles that her bestselling memoir, Taking Flight, is currently being adapted into a forthcoming biopic, which Madonna plans to direct. DePrince’s history is remarkable, but it doesn’t define her. Warm, driven, open, and unflinchingly honest, she is a force to be reckoned with.
Michaela, you have grown so much as an artist, it seems, over the past few years. What do you think has kept you moving forward, and growing?
I used to never focus on myself. I didn’t want to see myself because I was scared that I wouldn’t like what I saw. So I took some time off. I went away to London, where I met some incredible people. I read the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I realized that I was not living in the present moment, and as using pain body to feed my inspiration instead.
What is “pain body”?
Pain body is the accumulation of our past trauma and pain that causes us to use negative vibes as motivation. Like, Oh, people don’t like me. I’m going to prove myself to them, instead of using positivity. I started working on myself more and realized that I needed a change. I needed to be around positive people. I feel different people’s energies and I never really took the time before to explore that.
How do you surround yourself with positivity?
For the past two years I have been doing different projects that allow me to meet other people and try and grow into the person I want to be. Before, I was just doing things that people wanted me to do. I wasn’t fully present. [Now] I have a smaller group of friends, I have a different circle, and I feel a lot happier. I’m not as tired from constantly pushing myself down and not giving myself enough time to breathe and take care of myself.
As a ballet dancer, you have to develop so much discipline. I can’t even begin to comprehend it! I’m curious about the routines and practices that you’ve cultivated in your dance life, and also in your personal life, that have helped you get to where you are.
My daily routine is consistent; I have specific things I do when I wake up. When I travel, I even adjust my mealtime based on time zones, because otherwise I would get stressed out. I have always had discipline, because I always had to prove people wrong and make sure I was accomplishing my goals. For dancing, it was a bit different because so many people told me to stop trying because I am Black.
I’m sure people would say, and still do, “A Black Ballerina? Get outta here!” I took ballet and gymnastics when I was younger and I will always remember standing in first position and having my teachers come up behind me and say “You’re sticking your butt out!” I was like, “I promise you I’m not.”
People constantly force you to be somebody else! I have an incredible mentor who works at Julliard, and I was finally able to be myself with her. I didn't have to starve myself to look like somebody else. Before, I had no energy, until she explained to me that you have to align your bones. My body changed because of that. It’s just the bones that matter; the outside is other stuff. People force others to look a certain way, but it’s not about your figure, it’s about how you move the audience when you dance. If you’re moving them and you’re a hard worker, it doesn’t matter whether you have stripes or spots. People say they find it distracting to see Black ballerinas on stage, especially if there is just one… Okay, well, let’s put more on stage, and then you wouldn’t be distracted.
So about this photo shoot… For anyone that doesn’t recognize its iconic setup, we were inspired by Carrie Mae Weems’s seminal Kitchen Table Series. One reason we wanted to draw upon Weems’s work is the extreme discipline she had in creating it. Every day, she would photograph herself. And she used herself as a subject because she was there. So there was a practice to it, along with the impetus to insert Black women into the canon of fine art and create representation. And you kind of touched on this but I think it’s interesting, this juxtaposition— there’s always this conversation—
Yeah, I really don’t understand why we have to keep this conversation. I feel like we are constantly going backwards and never moving forward. It’s unbelievable.
Even now with the movie being made, I really have to think about things that people have said to me. I remember it took me the longest time to be able to wear lipstick because I once wore red lipstick on stage and one of my teachers said, “Never wear that, you look like a chimpanzee.”
Are you serious?
Yes… And I thought moving to Europe would be different.
You don’t feel it’s different?
Not really. In the US, I do get a bit scared in a particularly American way, especially because my family is in the South, in Atlanta. Holland is very international; I love
Amsterdam and its culture. But, even so, if you look or dress a certain way, they automatically assume that you are a certain way. I remember one time I was walking across the street—I had crutches still— and this white couple was walking towards me… but they crossed to the other side of the street. I kept walking and then I turned around to see them cross back. I thought, That’s a bit strange, maybe something was in their way. What did they think I was going to do to them?
Right. With a crutch. [Laughs] So then, after dance. What’s the plan?
I work with War Child Holland because I am a war orphan. They’ve helped me and I want to give back; I want to study human rights, especially for women in Africa. I have experienced some horrible things, and I have met some people who have experienced some horrible things as well, especially women. I want to be able to give them the opportunity to have a voice, especially in countries where they feel they don’t matter. I met this one incredible woman… She was raped by a man and later gave birth to his child and,
because the child was not fathered by someone in the community, the woman had to get rid of her child. That isn’t her fault, and I want women like her to feel protected. I grew up not feeling protected, also because of my vitiligo. I had the opportunity to have a second life by getting adopted and being able to pursue my career in dance. I’ve been so blessed by so many incredible things, and I think everybody deserves the chance to taste what that’s like.
We’re in a weird space with the Internet and Instagram, where we are constantly shifting between two identities, the performed self and the inner self. I know that I, and others, struggle to navigate that. How do you negotiate that space, particularly as you have gotten more famous?
I love being a role model and I love being able to inspire people and tell my story, but I also was struggling with PTSD. My ruptured Achilles surgery gave me an opportunity to restart and reinvent myself. Before, I had nightmares every single night and couldn’t function because everything was a constant reminder of my trauma. Every single day, I was reminded that I
was an orphan girl who became a ballerina; that became my identity. I had nothing else. So I started a YouTube channel for myself, to see how I could change. I wanted people to stop seeing my life as a story and to stop seeing that story as a fairy tale. You are constantly growing and experiencing conflicts both within and from the outside, and it would make me so upset when I would give speeches saying, “This is not a fairytale,” but I would still always smile. I thought, Maybe it’s my fault that I’m doing this. So I wanted to restart. I reset my whole Instagram. I wanted to really show people who I am and what I believe in, instead of just saying what I thought would help me get where I want to be.
Also, I want to start a school in Sierra Leone, so I kept thinking, Okay, it’s fine, do these things because then you’ll be able to start your school, it doesn’t matter how you feel. That didn’t work. It’s so hard, because you see so many things on the Internet and you think, I should look like that; I should smile like this; I should do that.
But how do you feel when you do these things? Are you happy? Do you feel content? Do you think you’re growing? Have you learned something from this? What will this teach you? I’m very happy now because I’m not hurting or sacrificing myself to please other people.
What does fantasy mean to you?
Anything can be fantasy. I could be living in a fantasy and never know it. Maybe because I can’t see myself the way other people see me.
What you touched on right there… That’s my biggest fear.
Yes. The idea that I am living a certain way or doing a certain thing, and other people are not perceiving it the way I expect. That really scares me.
It scares me too. I like when people think positively, and I’m always worried about being perceived the right way. So I feel you. But also, if you are living the way you want to live and doing things you want to do, you can’t go wrong. Regardless if you feel you’re being perceived “incorrectly.”
Yeah. Fantasy can be a distant place. It can be a far off thing in your mind. But it can also be an idea that you have, one you bring to fruition through
manifestation and hard work. The Internet adds another dimension to that, too.
The Internet is crazy. You can create your own universe and your own persona. You can use the Internet to portray your wildest fantasies. You can actually bring them to life.
What did you think your twenties would look like when you were younger? What was your fantasy back then?
When I was a kid I never wanted to grow up. I understood that kids had something special. I was so stuck when it was time to graduate; I had no idea what I saw myself doing. I luckily found a creative profession, one that I feel like I am good at. I went to a performing arts school for seven years, and being around so many types of creative people during such a formative time opened up my eyes. It guided me into what I am doing now. I was exposed to a lot of different types of characters and people really early on, always without judgement. I had friends that were in photography, or costume and design, or musical theater, and we all collaborated. I had to audition to get into that school, and that experience of auditioning is really similar to castings and being in shows. it was a really impactful time of my life, because even though I’m not dancing or singing, I
am still doing things that revolve around the world I grew up in.
I live in New York, and I always think about the children I will bear one day.
And if they wanna do art, they should go to a performing arts school. I think it’s so smart to nurture talent from a really young age, along with a curiosity for creative endeavors. And then, like you said, there’s the community. What’s your fantasy for the future?
I like to see the growth between when I started and now, and I look forward to seeing the growth between what I”m currently doing and two years from now. I want to do more with my body, my voice, and my platform, and see all that evolve. But also, there is so much things I can tackle in this life. In reality, I have so much time and so much energy that I can give to the world if I live long, and I hope I do. Right now I would like to go back to the community that I grew up in and help other young women like myself. I want to help people understand they can come from nothing—or even just an average place— and find their way to greatness.
I was talking to my friend about this the other day. Once you feel like you have “made it” to whatever degree that means, it is so important to give back and reinvest in your community.
Yeah, I agree. I feel like I invest in everything. Well, I haven’t invested in stocks.
I should. But I invest a lot in my friends and my family. My friends will be like, “Oh, I have an idea,” and I”m just like, “What do you need from me?” Because I believe that they can do it.
What has been great about DRØME expanding is it really feels like we’re collecting friends. So it keeps getting bigger and bigger, but at the same time it feels very small and close-knit, which is cool. And since it’s something annual, it does feel a little bit like a yearbook.
I know! Because the magazine is published once a year, it feels super special.
Yeah, and it’s always such a fun group of people! It’s really nice to have all kinds of artists, some more well-known and some less. It is hard in this day and age to figure out a balance. I find that a lot of my friends struggle with doing things for exposure, even if they’re not things they are particularly interested in. Just to get to a certain place or atmosphere, or their work will remain unknown.
That’s always the struggle, for anybody and everybody. With modeling, I think about if I should only stick to jobs that I care about, or that I feel are worth my time. I like to try everything, but then you also can’t say yes to everything, which is my problem—I always say yes to everything. [Laughs]
That is definitely a philosophy of life. It keeps experiences coming. I feel you. If you think about all the different directions you could go in with your life, what keeps you focused and grounded? What helps you recalibrate?
My core group of friends and family help keep me focused, grounded, and on the correct path. They really welcome everything that I’m doing. When I pick up new things or think about what I want for the future,
I think about not only what would make me proud, but what my support system would be proud supporting. Because a big thing on the Internet right now is talking about whether you are supporting good people. And for people making art: Are you supporting who they are as well as supporting what they do? So I always try to do things that are going to make my friends, family, and anyone else who supports me proud to continue to do that.
Definitely. Speak your truth. Do you.
Yeah, that’s a big thing, speaking your truth.
Really! It’s so hard. It’s hard sometimes when you realize that nobody else is doing what you’re doing, and to be okay with that.
And, for anybody who is in a position where people are looking to them for guidance and inspiration, it’s hard to understand yourself. When you have a lot of people trying to give their opinions on how you should understand yourself, too, that’s tough.
Photographer Lili Peper joins Salem and Satchel.
Where do you find inspiration, Lili?
I watch a lot of films. I’m really inspired by cinema.
Which films are your go-to references?
David Lynch’s films are always up there for me. I love surrealism, so Luis Bunuel’s films, too. Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director, is my favorite contemporary filmmaker, I love him… Dario Argento, who did Suspiria in the ‘70s, has these great colors, so for colors I go to his films.
You’re a photographer, and clearly films are visually inspiring, but do plot and story ever inspire your work as well?
I’m fascinated by being able to tell an entire narrative with a single image. Drawing inspiration from films is less about camera movement and visual tricks, and more about putting a camera down and letting the scene kind of play out. And I notice how they load it, both with the actors’ performances but also props and set design, location and lighting, how all of these things affect the scene.
If you could give the audience something that they can really interact with, even just a photograph, you can give people enough that they can really—
Latch onto it.
I love using a lot of domestic signifiers in photography, and objects that link people to things. I love wide shots, too, because you see a door open, and you see a person sitting there, and you see a phone, and maybe the phone is off the hook. These are things you can identify, and identify with. You latch onto that, but then you start projecting all this subjective experience onto that image, so you are invited into the narrative as it is being told, and it’s not just spoon-fed to you. What happened the minute before this photo was taken, what happened a minute after, what’s happening in the next room right now while this photograph is being taken. You, as the audience, project all that onto it, and I think that is all you can ask for from an image. Another reason I get a lot of inspiration from films is that I think there’s a huge difference between films that let audiences be passive versus ones that all spectators to be active participants. And there are specific ways that films use tricks to create that, to force the audience into that. A really long shot, for example, is something a lot of people don’t have the patience for, so when a filmmaker uses that as a device, it makes the viewer more aware of what’s going on.
It makes you aware of yourself in the theater, it makes you aware of the person sitting next to you, because you’re stuck there with the shot, with the performance. There’s this film called A Ghost Story—have you seen that?
A Ghost Story?
It’s an art film by David Lowery about a woman who loses her husband really early on, and it’s basically a ghost story told from the ghost’s perspective. So for the film’s majority, the male lead in the film is under a sheet. He’s this personified ghost on camera. it’s so beautiful, it’s a very photographic film, and it’s risky. There is one scene where the female lead, played by Rooney Mara, comes back from identifying her husband’s body at the hospital, and she walks into her house and finds that somebody brought her a pie. She takes the pie and stares at it for a while. And then they cut, and she’s on the floor with it. The frame is completely still, in the same exact spot for eight minutes. And you are just watching this person in mourning. She eats the entire pie in one sitting—they do not cut the shot. And you are just there with her. The director said when he screened the film, a lot of people walked out. Audiences often can’t handle that level of longevity anymore in film, because they get too uncomfortable, or get bored.
I think also with a lot of art films, people just don’t expect stuff like that,
because some movies are the cinematic equivalent of fast food.
Well, you go to the cinema to forget everything else. You go and watch action films, you don’t have to think about anything. You’re kind of just a blob.
We shouldn’t even call it cinema. How did that scene make you feel, though?
Well you are on the floor with her for eight minutes while she is eating this pie, thinking, I can’t believe this. At the end of the scene, she runs into the bathroom and throws it up.
That’s so sad.
It is unbelievable. I get goose bumps just talking about it.
Did you cry?
No, I didn't cry. I saw the film with my friend Nick, and after we were just sitting outside, smoking a cigarette, contemplating the movie… And at the exact same time that I asked, “How amazing was that?” he asked, “How boring was that?” [Laughs] That’s just how it is.
We collaborated with some of our favourite designers who do not merely challenge, but dismantle the gender binary with their rebellious, honest, audacious looks.
Cheng Huai Chuang, Hardeman Wardements, Laurence & Chico Luar, Vasilis Loizides Maison the Faux, Private Policy
I’m not sure when or how it started. sometimes it’s like a slow ache in your neck or the prick of a needle into your skin. Before i had language for it, the pain was an anonymous symptom of everyday life. it’s there when you wake up and go to bed, it follows you down the street, it hovers by mirrors and closets. dysphoria is a tricky bastard that way.
At age nineteen I had a panic attack because I was wearing a skirt and had long hair. Something had clicked in my brain—this is all wrong. I didn’t know why. It just was. So I cut off the hair. Wore “men’s” clothing. Bought a binder. My transformation may not have altered the dysphoria, but it was dramatic enough to ease the discomfort. It let me breathe.
I like to imagine that my body is a flesh suit, one that doesn’t always fit. The artist Polly Nor has a series of illustrations depicting devils putting on skin suits, washing their skin suits, picking out a different body from their closet. When I saw them I thought, Yes, someone gets it. I am a trans-mutation and I am overwhelmed by the lack of body suits I have to choose from.
On Alika—Vasilis Loizides Double Green Dress, SYRO Golfo Plaid Boots, Laruicci Crystal with Gold Hoop Earring, On Cheeky—Vasilis Loizides Green Chaps, Green Chandelier Top and Chest Harness, SYRO Golfo Black Patent Boots
Presentation, then, is the next best thing. If fashion is an expression of the queer self, a signifier to others that I am here in a network of like-minded twinks and butches and zaddies, for non-binary and trans people it is that and a retaliation against dysphoria, a “fuck you” to everyone who says “I do not see you. You do not exist.” Passing or not, incognito or loud ‘n’ proud, trans people use clothing and style as a tool to survive, as a punctuation to their gender, and whatever a trans person wears, I guarantee you it is radical. People lose their lives for presenting as themselves.
I am the curator of my gender, the architect of my body, and the seamstress of this flesh suit. Fashion becomes not only an expression of the self, but the very skin we live and breathe in.
‘Dysphoria’— Max Van Cooper
Curated and Produced by Christine Marie
Photographer—Liz Fang, Models—RJ Carag, Tara Parambi, Jinowat, Shifa, Shahrnaz Javid, Thunder Sudsue Nuky (Jennifer Pham), Christine Marie, Mikayla Delson
“This is What Asian Looks Like” is a campaign driven to celebrate the faces of Asia for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It is our collective initiative to break the stereotypes associated with Asian Americans.
This project exhibits Chicago’s spectrum of new era Asian creatives, who all contribute their unique narratives to Asian American History. This is our voice. #ThisIsWhatAsianLooksLike
Essay by Alok Vaid-Menon
There are no contradictions if you believe in art.
Art is less of a method (poet! sculptor! painter!) and more a mode of living. Art is in life-making, as in the living is the work as the street is the stage as in the body is the canvas. You understand? Art as the place we go when language fails; art as the dimension where things do not have to be real to matter.
The natural state of the world is one of harmony, simultaneity, balance. When we encounter tension between ideas, aesthetics, ways of being-this reveals a failure of the imagination. Imagination is where we go to see harmony where they see dissonance. The particulars aren’t the problem, it’s the paradigm! Sometimes I just want to hug everyone in the world struggling and whisper in their ear, IT’S NOT PERSONAL, IT’S THE PARADIGM!”
As artists - by which I mean as people trying to make a better world - we are tasked with the challenge: How do we transcend the paradigm?
There’s this myth in Western culture that performance is where we go to pretend to be something that we are not. At every level we are taught to dismiss the things that are fleeting, ephemeral, contrived. But being an artist is about making an argument for the ‘artificial,’ and - in other words - against the natural.
Performance is one of the only spaces where we can be honest anymore. Something about simulation creates a more perfect reality. Perhaps this is why we run to cinemas or theaters to cry in the darkness. Perhaps this is why we avidly consume memes: #RelatableContent. What is me, but a stylized fantasy?
There are many joys to the non binary experience but among them are a dismissal of the real. We are told that there are two genders, two sexes, two ways of being. We are told that this is “science,” no “religion,” no “state.” In other words: we are told that we do not exist. We are told that we are delusional, disordered, narcissistic. And so we are tasked with the burden of authenticity. We can say “I AM REAL!” but then we have to ask ourselves why our legitimacy is dependent on the very logics which disappear us to begin with.
So then sometimes we have the audacity to say: “NONE OF THIS IS REAL!” And there’s a type of freedom that comes from that, a potentiality. We can look at this body they assigned us and say, “This is not a _____, this is a _____.” And for once the template becomes more of an open playing field, a fill in the blank if you will. We can look at the world and say, “This is not a democracy, this is a ____!” We can look to the television screens say, “This is not happiness, this is ____!” We can go to the stage and say, “I am not ____, I am ____!”
I do this workshop every once in a while called FEELINGS! I think workshops are essential because they’re about figuring out how to become a better person - or rather - how to become a person. We teach each other things that our schools forgot to or maybe even didn’t want to: how to process jealousy, how to grieve death, how to name boundaries. Sometimes I ask participants to approach a white board and answer some questions. Sometimes I ask, “WHO ARE YOU?” Most of the time people don’t know what to say. I mean they say things but I’m unclear whether it’s them speaking or someone else. “I’m a…”. [insert template] [insert assigned identity] [insert hierarchy].
There are not contradictions, there are just failures of imagination. And so I keep on asking, who are you? And eventually the only answer is always ? The answer to the question is the question, isn’t it? I find the best answers are the ones that disarticulate the question to begin with: Are you a man or a woman? No.
Living in fantasy is about embracing the infinite potentiality of the question mark. It’s about a perpetual ambivalence to the real, a sincere and earnest skepticism of authenticity as a project, a recognition of the constructedness of everyone and everything. “Natural" just like “normal” is an intentional and deliberate act. “History” just like “man,” is a performance art scripted so seamlessly it assumes the position of authority.
I believe the reason non binary people experience so much wrath is because we make the world confront the myth of its own naturalness. We unsettle the very grammar that they use to name themselves. Rather than saying, “I don’t know who I am” they scream and they shout and they hurt so loud and so forcefully that they do not notice us saying,
YOU DON’T HAVE TO
YOU DON’T HAVE TO
Welcome to the fantasy.
On the inspiration to start doing cosplay and how identification with different characters feels:
I identify and relate to each character I cosplay. I am able to see myself in the character while also recognizing which characteristics in them I wish I had. It began as just fun for me; I simply enjoyed putting the costume together. Then I realized that there was a whole community and world surrounding cosplay. I also realized that if you are a person of color and don’t look like a character, some people really don’t want you to touch those characters. But we should be able to interpret characters the way we want, and people are able to realize that through cosplay. I have received so much love from others saying that I have inspired them to try cosplaying different characters, which has been such an inspiration for me. Having a positive impact on other people’s self-esteem and mental health and being able to touch people that you can’t even see and make them be comfortable with themselves— that’s an amazing thing.
On contemporary cartoons that portray and empower people of color and different perspectives:
Tyler the Creator has a cartoon now, and there are shows like The Boondocks that focus on Black struggle. It is becoming better, but we still need to continue to highlight previously underrepresented characters. The fact that Black Panther just came out with one of the first Black protagonists from Marvel is wild. It’s 2018! They won’t make more movies with people of color as leads if audiences don’t put more money into these projects. We need to constantly push for change, because so much of it is just business. Fortunately, people came out for Black Panther. We proved it’s value.
On the representation of people in color in cartoons and animation:
What’s disheartening about the lack of representation of people of color in mainstream media is how we start to internalize it, and come to believe that we cannot be or do certain things. Because we aren’t talked about or shown in mainstream media, we are made to feel invisible. Our stories need to be publicly told so that people can know how important they are; the media just hasn’t made it seem that way. We exist, whether or not it sometimes seems like we don’t
The charismatic, playful, generous multi-dimensional being that is Mela Murder. Where do we even begin? Photographing you both before and after Amethyst’s birth were two beautiful experiences. During that earlier shoot, I remember just waiting for the drops to fall on the seamless… I had fully accepted that we may have ended up at the hospital.
Yes! I was so happy to have those last moments of pregnancy captured by you. I just knew she was coming to make her debut (and fast)! Our shoot was February 6th and I delivered Amethyst just after midnight on February 9th.
I realized that day, waddling to your car with you, how time must have changed for you. From go, go, go, to that zen state of carrying a child. How everything has its time…
At times, I felt as though myeline never really slowed down. Perhaps I didn’t want to allow myself to accept that it had. I stayed super busy. I was proud to carry my daughter inside me, and I spoke often about what was happening to me physically. I had never felt more beautiful, so I showcased that with every chance: posing nude on my Instagram, riding the train in the dead of winter with my belly exposed… Unapologetically basking in all my womanly glory.
Let’s talk about your dancing for a moment. When did you begin? And how did you get involved in balls?
When I was fifteen or sixteen, I started dancing competitively with a team out of my high school on Staten Island. We soon joined forces with a next-level team, Settle the Score. They were well-known in the city’s competitive dance world. Rehearsal was a bootcamp and I loved it. Then I got introduced to vogue. All of my dance leaders were queens from Harlem and the Bronx, and they were teaching me to duck walk and do dips during a time when vogue was still an underground thing. It was rarely showcased in any performances, where we only ever performed hip hop and reggae routines. Never vogue, but we would have little kiki sessions after rehearsals or on the train, and I fell completely in love with it. Something about vogue made me feel so free. I used it as an outlet to release whatever I felt I needed to release.
And then you eventually were dancing with Wes [Diplo], traveling the world, getting lost in the hustle and glam. Did you have any clue what was to come?
Even thinking about it now gives me chills. He hadn’t seen me dance yet when I met him at a drag bar downtown, but we caught a vibe and he was like, “I’ll see you next week for
your first show.” It was some cosmic, magical shit. My life completely changed after that, and there’s no way to prepare a person for that capacity of living. With all the grind comes the glamour, and it’s extremely easy to get lost in it. I was addicted to that life, and although it was amazing, it did get scary and dark. When I ended my journey with Major Lazer, I thought that was the worst thing to happen to me. Now I realize that it actually saved me.
When I saw Clayton Vomero’s short film GANG, I thought, Of course she can act, fully knowing you hadn’t trained at all. It was just because you have such a presence. How did you find yourself acting in that project?
GANG was another cosmic occurrence. The stars aligned and everyone involved was tapped into the same frequency. I hold that project very dear to my heart because it was the first time I had ever allowed a creative like Clayton Vomero into my world, my circle of friends, our personal conversations, our thoughts on life. When he first hit me ump about his film I wasn’t into it, until he let me throw all my ideas and interests at him. I introduced him to Denasia and Infinite and when he saw our vibe, our lingo, our energy, our vogue, all of our magic… The rest is history.
And from there you were cast in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project?
Yes! The universe is always giving. Sean loved GANG and he reached out to me about
having written the character Ashley with me in mind. I didn’t have to audition; I didn’t prep beforehand. I just flew to Florida and was on set filming the next day. I met with my acting coach Samantha Quan who is just so caring, passionate, and talented. Working with her felt like being in a dance studio with an instructor, but instead of working with our bodies, we were working with our words and emotions.
The Florida Project is not only an important part of film history, but also an important piece in your life. You signed on, signifying a new chapter in your life. This chapter meant film work, of course, but you soon realized it also meant motherhood. Was there a moment in which you doubted keeping your child? I have so much respect for you making the difficult decision to keep and raise your child on your own.
I am always very honest whenever I’m asked that. Yes, I absolutely doubted keeping my daughter. I grew up poor and Puerto Rican, in a society that expects us to be pregnant at fifteen and depend on the government to take care of us. I was conditioned from a young age that pregnancy was not a happy thing, it was not something to be celebrated. Pregnancy meant life over. I cried and cried and cried when I found out I was pregnant. I was on birth control, so I was shocked, and I thought, What am I going to do? What about my life, my career… me, me me. I was thinking so selfishly, the fact that I would be handling motherhood alone didn’t set in until much later, but it was all written. My journey played out exactly the way it was supposed to, and I accept that responsibility with an open heart.
We were texting just days before your arrival to Los Angeles about you coming to visit sometimes in the future, then I get a text saying you actually had to come for a couple days straight from Turkey so I was tasked with getting a team and location in a couple days. It was such a wonderful whirlwind.
The universe always delivers, babe. You and I are tapped into some deep shit where we can speak something instantly into existence and make anything possible!
I remember pulling up to your hotel in Beverly Hills so we could work on this script, and feeling overcome with pride. You were traveling internationally every few days, from Q&A’s in Turkey, to screenings in Los Angeles and festivals in Mexico, all with a newborn. Laughing with you and discussing our purpose on Earth into the wee hours of the morning, while we ate vegan chocolate chip pancakes and chilaquiles from Swingers was one of the most precious moments of my life.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Traveling with Amethyst is an absolute dream come true and I am so grateful that I am able to do so. But I would be in the hotel rooms trying to mentally prepare myself for an appearance and all the while I have a voice in my head that is constantly tormenting me and I am always worrying about Amethyst. Even having to push a stroller and a luggage by myself, the little things, were hard. So when I finally got to see you in LA, your spirit brought much needed peace into my mental. I felt safe and I can unload any thoughts I had because you nurture me. I love you so much.
You have told me before about a mental break you had many months ago that led to your work with #LETSTALK. Would you talk about that?
It happened while I was in Antalya for a film festival. I attended a beautiful dinner overlooking the Mediterranean. I felt the spirit of the city all around me and was intoxicated with joy and happiness. Dancing, laughing, being swept away by the wonder of life… Then, suddenly, a wave of sadness crashed into me. I had a huge emotional breakdown.
I released things I had no idea I was holding onto. I was screaming, “I’m not happy, I’m not okay, I need help, I’m a mess.” Elsie, my step-grandmother, told me, “Mamita, you are not a mess. You are strong, you are capable of anything, look at where we are, look at who we’re with. You have your daughter with you. You’re an amazing mother.” I had never been handled that way after a breakdown… Elsie was there for me exactly the way I needed her to be, and the next day I felt like I was looking at the world through different eyes. My senses were enhanced and my focus was more sharp. I was so fully present in the beauty of that moment. For that, I hold Turkey so dear to my heart.
And that inspired you to create #LETSTALK, a gathering of single mothers seeking emotional support. What do the events look like? Can you tell me a bit about the project?
I create #LETSTALK because I was finally beginning to allow myself to be open and truthful about what I was going through emotionally, about being a single mother. The response I got really blew me away. I had so many women hitting me up to share their stories, to offer kind words and support. There are so, so many single mothers out there, carrying the weight of every single aspect of their lives without an outlet. Why are sources of mental help not as common as a seven-week postpartum check up?
need a chance to be heard and nurtured. That’s what #LETSTALK is about.
Towards the end of our shoot, we ended up wrapping the day on the floor laughing because of your alter ego that decided to show up. What was her name? Jessica?
I feel like when situations arise that we do not anticipate its a direct test from God and how we go about handling it determines which directions we walk on our path. We took that bizarre situation and laughed so hard about a person we created with our imaginations. Hey Jessica!
I remember ending that night going to a yoga class and feeling so overcome with hidden sadness and feelings of helplessness, the kind of emotion we experience when a weaker version of ourselves needs to find a way out so we can grow. I got through maybe four minutes before I just laid down with tears falling down my face. Then the moment I got up and tried to swallow it and be strong, I started bawling. And the moment I finally felt like I just needed a hug, I guess the instructor felt it, and she came over and put her hand on the nape of my back. Just a simple touch, so powerfully maternal. Then the next morning, I woke up to wonderful news that The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston had just acquired a handful of my prints. It made me consider the beautiful mystery of life itself, how we can never truly see around the corner.
Exactly and that is the simplicity of life and how we are tested in life. Howe we go about these test truly determine our next chapters, you handled what you were feeling the way a human is suppose to. You surrendered! There is so much power when you allow yourself to make friends with your demons or your sadness, such strength in making friends with pain and not running from it like we all tend to do.
If you could give advice to youth today, what would it be?
Speak your truth, Speak your Truth, Live your truth. Stand up for yourself and what you believe is right. Do not tolerate pain in any degree. Seek Knowledge, Ask Questions, never stop pushing forward. There is enough world and opportunity for all of us to
co exist peacefully. Do right onto others. Drink more water. Let go often and remember the be fully present in the now!
And for young women in entertainment?
Keep expressing yourselves. Keep sharing your stories and experiences with all of us. Be mindful of the people who look up to you and aware of the example you set for them. It’s easy to say, “I’M NOT A ROLE MODEL..” But the moment you chose to be apart of this world you inevitably took on the responsibility of being one. It is a beautiful role to take on and it makes you want to change for the better to make an impactful difference on a person’s life. We are saving the world in a sense. The goal is making this world a place filled with more love and hope.
by David-Simon Dayan
Grooming by Marlaine Reiner
WRITTEN BY: BROOKS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: SOPHIE HUR
We didn’t have cable growing up, so my brother and I religiously rented tapes from the library and Hollywood Video. Sometimes I couldn’t always shake the worlds I’d entered with those tapes, and I remember one Batman Beyond episode that stayed with me.
In a recurring dream, my classmates and I would blissfully run to the playground during recess. The glee would last mere moments. Suddenly, each of them would break out into uncontrollable laughter, their faces twisted and pupils dilated. One by one, my classmates would surround me, backing me further and further into a corner against a brick wall, until there was absolutely no way to escape. The Joker would then appear, part the crowd, and slowly approach me with what seemed like a deathwish. And as he would reach me, I’d wake up. Every time.
I can’t quite put my finder on why I remember this dream so vividly, seventeen years later, but I always wonder if it has to do with the genetic disorder I was born with, which seemed to mark my identity as different from other kids. Perhaps I wanted to play the role of Batman, the alienated superhero, but I could never even save myself.
WRITTEN BY LENNOX
I was going to visit a friend in jail. I remembered, while dreaming, that I had gone to visit them before. Instead of seeing my friend, I would up on the roof of the prison. I could see for miles and miles. It was sunny outside and warm. There was green grass just beyond the prison walls.
I remember feeling that the whole situation was wrong, but in that dreaminess of it all I couldn’t place why. I woke up an hour after my alarm was set to go off, feeling discombobulated and concerned. I think I wrote the dream down because it was such a significant articulation of the prison industrial complex. Nothing felt quite right that next day.
The first dream I ever remembered, I thought was my first memory. It was recurring & I was at a beach in New York & I felt my mother’s presence & heard the sound of dolphins, & remember this golden light like a halo all around us, the distinct sound of waves crashing & the smell of sea & cool air, salt water spraying. The strange thing about this dream was that my mother passed away 13 days after I was born in Indonesia, we never made it to New York together.
I thought it had happened in real life, so when I was a child, and I would tell my family about this, they’d say it wasn’t real. For so much of my life I thought this dream was my first memory but when I learned of my mother’s death I realized it couldn’t have happened in real life. I still have trouble understanding the meaning of the dream, why it happened & why it still stands out so vividly in my memory.
Written by Indra
Photographer — Brooke Ashley Barone
My pace fell, my steps getting slower. Was I nervous? Was I afraid? My curiosity overcame. I was outside one of the rooms, looking in. I stood there, still. The door was opening. A hospital bed and the lights were off. There was something under the covers. A torso rose. A shadow, dark like a shadow. No face but red eyes like daggers. Our eyes met. I knew I’d see it if I stopped. I got to the window, climbed onto the tree and flew away.
Written by Nightspace
I found myself in a hallway, it was a hospital. I was alone and conscious, a lucid dream. Stark, white, a feeling of emptiness. Fluorescent lights and maybe they were flickering. There were equal doors on both sides, each other’s mirror. A window at the end and leaves behind the glass. I stepped quietly down the hall. Cautious. Self aware. What as this impending feeling? I approached the window, as I walked past the doors they opened in my periphery. The rooms were dark and I didn't want to see anything. The hallway was narrow.
I was in a medieval town.
Everything was based on gender assigned at birth, either male or female.
Being transgender, my life in this town was hard and complicated.
Everyone was assigned a partner that they were forced to be with and could not separate from.
When assigned to each other, you had to demonstrate your love and affection physically, in an auditorium filled with people.
I was arranged with the King’s daughter; we got notice that we were assigned to each other two weeks before the “show.”
We decided to meet each other before.
You were not suppose to do this, but we didn’t care.
We met and ended up falling in love.
She knew that the day of the show everyone would find out that I was transgender, and her father would order me to be executed.
So we made plans to run away on the day of the show.
But before we had the chance, we were called to the auditorium.
We knew this was the end of our time together.
In the auditorium, things escalated quickly and the next thing I knew my pants were off and then I woke up…
The hectic second weekend of June 2018 started on Thursday, when I ended up on the dance floor of a club called Suicide Circus. Supposedly I was brought there by a friend whose art performance I had attended earlier that day. I had my own opening of a group show the day after, though. With zero hours of sleep, I showed up there on Friday and had to hang my photos at a gallery.
All went well; obviously we couldn’t just go home and sleep after the show, so Nat and Zoe, who curated the show, took me to our friend Grace’s place, which has a very nice view over a Kreuzberg crossroad. That’s all I remember from that night. (Because there’s photo evidence.). Fortunately, I got some rest on Saturday, because I had to attend Herrensauna at Tresor, a hedonistic party organized by friends that went pretty viral last year.
It’s forbidden to take photos there, but I have my own ways; being close to the party organizers helps, too. The morning after, I joined another crew who had been in Berghain on Sunday. Their after hours were still going at this guy named Joe’s apartment. I had no idea who Joe was—he wasn’t even there—but he had this very cute pet snake.
We got hungry and Haein suggested moving to her apartment, where she cooked some pasta. It was several blocks away, so we had an afternoon walk in Neukolln.
It’s common to start a weekend with a certain group of people, with a certain vibe, trying to plan things ahead to avoid exhaustion. By the end however, you end up with completely different people, in places and at times that would never had imagined. Plus, with so much energy, you definitely cannot sleep.