ORGASM, ACTIVATED: A conversation with Serwah Attafuah

ORGASM, ACTIVATED: A conversation with Serwah Attafuah

Above: “EXPLORATION” by Serwah Attafuah

ORGASM, ACTIVATED: A conversation with Serwah Attafuah

11 months ago

Multidisciplinary artist Serwah Attafuah, known for constructing ethereal, dystopian cyber landscapes that center powerful and evocative subjects, has been creating since childhood. In the digital realm, she found widespread acclaim with the rise of web3–her piece “Creation of My Metaverse (Between this World and the Next)” was included in Sotheby’s landmark “Natively Digital” auction, and she has partnered with numerous brands and creators to bring collective visions to life. Based in West Sydney, Australia, she plays heavy metal music in addion to fostering her career as a phenomenon in the digital art space.

EXPLORATION,” Serwah’s recent collaboration with NARS Cosmetics for ORGASM, ACTIVATED, in partnership with SuperRare, is inspired by the tones and energy of the brand’s Orgasam Collection, bringing digital worlds together with notions of beauty and self-expression. An AR filter, ”EXPLORATION,” is a representation of self-love and discovery. Serwah spoke to SuperRare Labs Content Strategist Oli Scialdone about “EXPLORATION,” digital expression, and the distinct hallmarks of her practice.  

Oli Scialdone: Before coming to digital art, you were an oil painter. Can you tell me a little bit about how you found not only digital art, but NFTs? How have you explored self-expression throughout your journey as an artist across mediums?

Serwah Attafuah: Both of my parents are artists, so I started being creative at a pretty young age. My dad is an African storyteller and metal sculptor, my mum is a graphic designer and painter. I was always encouraged to try new things, so when I found a set of oil paints in my parents garage/studio, I instantly fell in love and painted every day. We lost our garage in my early teens and I had to find another way to be creative, but I really thought long and hard about what medium would enable me to be creative whenever/however/wherever I wanted. Digital art made the most sense; all I really needed was a computer and I could run free. So now, I’ve been making digital art for over 12 years, which is almost half my life. I started out really experimental because I taught myself and had no real teacher or mentor telling me I was doing things ‘the wrong way.’ It worked out really well in the end because now I feel like I have a style that isn’t attainable, because I created my own systems of doing things. 

I got into NFTs in mid 2020 when curator Lindsay Howard invited me to be a part of a digital art group show powered by NFTs. I had only heard of NFTs in passing, but once I got started, it totally changed my life and the way I looked at art moving forward.  

OS: You began a TEDx talk you gave in February by speaking about the many metaverses you explored online while growing up, saying that “Having the freedom to try on different metaphysical hats with the technological assurance of an undo button allowed me to curate and explore my identity for years to come.” What did it mean for you to create digital spaces where you could safely explore and express your identity? How did that influence your artwork in ORGASM, ACTIVATED?

SA: It was so important and influential for me to have had those spaces growing up in early versions of the metaverse. I probably would not have gravitated so much to digital art if I hadn’t had those lived experiences. I actually was homeless for a short time when I was a child–going to the internet cafe and diving into a digital wonderland was a bright escape for me. Now I can create spaces from scratch that are sanctuaries and safe havens, and it’s super important to have those for my mental health. I’ve always wanted to be a world builder, and 3D art gives me the tools to do that. Creating the ORGASM universe in pink and gold shades is an extension of this.

OS: You’ve described your artwork as “surreal cyber dreamscapes and heavenly wastelands, populated by afro-futuristic abstractions of self.” What are your thoughts on how those dreamscapes and wastelands in your worlds interact with the images of the self that you depict? How did this theme in your work translate into your work “EXPLORATION” in the ORGASM, ACTIVATED collection?

SA: My work is really about pushing the surreal in both contemporary and traditional view. It’s also heavy on the theme of afrofuturism. To me afrofuturism is about painting afro and black cultures with a positive future focused light. My characters are what I call abstractions of reflections of self, meaning that I’m telling my story through different versions of me. With “EXPLORATION,” I really wanted to capture a feeling like the centre of the universe in orgasmic bliss through what I think is my signature art style of afrofuturism and afrosurrealism.  

OS: How did the shade Orgasm inspire your work and interact with your self-expression as an artist?

SA: Pink and gold tones have always been a constant in my work. I see it as a symbol of strength and feminine power. I actually have a deep passion for makeup and have been using Orgasm since I was 15; I feel like I’ve always been trying to replicate the same glittering skin effect and strong glowing looks across all my digital characters.

OS: Can you tell us a little more about your creative process in bringing the piece to life? How did you go about creating the artwork itself, and then translating it into an experiential AR filter that allows others to self-express in the context of your creation?

SA: I started by really trying to tap into what Orgasm meant to me. It’s something personal yet universal. I have a philosophy that an artwork is never really finished and revisit and expand on concepts constantly. So I decided to expand on my piece “Voidwalker” (2020) to create “EXPLORATION,” tying to the subject of universal orgasmic bliss. I first started with mapping out where all the 3D planets would be, then worked on the lighting and overall vibe. The 3D makeup was really interesting to explore. I love working in AR and to be able to create a piece of artwork to go with it was really special. 

View ORGASAM, ACTIVATED here on SuperRare.

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

ORGASM, ACTIVATED: A conversation with Dr. Alex Box

ORGASM, ACTIVATED: A conversation with Dr. Alex Box

Above: “PULSATION” by Dr. Alex Box

ORGASM, ACTIVATED: A conversation with Dr. Alex Box

11 months ago

With a distinctly posthumanist bend, the artist Dr. Alex Box has built a career around exploring the limits of identity and self-expression through makeup and beauty, and has pushed those limits at every opportunity. As one of the founding editors of the fashion and art publication King Kong, her artistic practice and philosophy have impacted creative spaces on a global scale, where she has collaborated with designers, musicians, technologists, photographers, and artists across mediums. 

Her latest collaboration for NARS Cosmetics’ ORGASM, ACTIVATED, in partnership with SuperRare, celebrates the legacy and palette of the brand’s Orgasm Collection and represents the intersections of technology, beauty, and the self. The artwork, “PULSATION,” is an AR filter teeming with energy and rendered in the classic pinks and golds of the NARS’ Orgasm shade. Alex spoke to SuperRare Labs Content Strategist Oli Scialdone about “PULSATION,” beauty futurism, and constructing identity through expression.    

Oli Scialdone: Your career has spanned so many spaces, physical and digital. Can you speak a little about your journey from fine arts to the art of beauty, and how web3 fits in? How have you viewed beauty as a form of self-expression, across traditional and digital mediums?

Dr. Alex Box: For me, traversing traditional and emerging spaces is an essential part of the narration and navigation of the body and identity and self expression. We exist on many planes, both physical and digital. My origins in fine art had the body and performance at its core, commenting on beauty symbolism, aesthetic consumption, and desire. Then that lens inverted when my process and practice became desired by the fashion industry and I navigated an unique space within beauty and fashion. I was then able to comment, respond and evolve the narrative from the inside over the last 25 years. Tech has always been a vital material in my creation; its constant evolution of tools and dimensions opens a plethora of new ways to explore the body and identity.  Web3 is presenting possibilities of the body as immersive experience, collective consciousness, an omniversal presence. This capability gives flesh to the  possibilities at a deeper narration of the self beyond the physical and a new aesthetic based in a  more philosophical exploration.  

OS: You’ve described yourself as a “beauty futurist.” What is a futurist perspective on beauty,  and how does it differ from more traditional perspectives? How did this perspective apply in ORGASM, ACTIVATED, where you bring to life an iconic brand and shade as a digital artwork, and what initially drew you to participate in the collaboration?

DAB: A Beauty Futurist perspective encompasses foresight and insight, speculative design and conceptual parallels, that go beyond the physical and material into technological experiential and emotional aspects of beauty. My approach to ORGASM, ACTIVATED was very much an immersive one; both the filter and the artwork are presenting spatial texture, tone and color as an emotional environment, product as experience. Conceptually I was looking to create ‘feeling’ more than seeing, the viewer participating in a ‘moment’ that’s transformative and captures the ‘spirit’ and dimension of the NARS Orgasm range. This iconic brand has a presence of art and sensuality committed to subtlety and complex colour, immersing the viewer in a rich narrative.  As a multidisciplinary artist, I’m drawn to working with brands with whom I share these parallel aesthetics and ethos. 

OS: In a 2022 interview for Wunderman Thomson, you spoke about designing identity, saying that it “traverses both the physical and digital.” What does it mean to design identity? How much can our identities be designed?  Can you give us a glimpse of how you brought this perspective to life throughout the process of creating “PULSATION?”

DAB: Identity Design is to describe the methodology of creative practice in developing identity through the principles of form, function, personhood, aesthetic, ethos, and psychology. As we exist in the multiverse, we are expressing a multiplicity of self, ‘A prismatic Identity.’ These require new forms of visualization and expression ‘design.’ This perspective is brought to life by envisaging the interconnectedness of all things and vibrant matter, the figuration of symbolism and spirituality.

OS: Your artwork “PULSATION” has such a warmth to it–a serene type of energy. Can you speak a little on the piece, the process of making it, and translating it into an AR filter? 

DAB: Thank you, that’s exactly the tone and texture I wanted to convey! The serenity of a state untroubled and transcendent, the twinkling embers after the euphoria, a warm and pulsating after glow . I desired to create an artwork that connected a ‘feeling’ with the viewer, the eyes in the image are closed, suggesting the inner world, traveling into a realm of the senses. For the “PULSATION” piece I used the Metahuman Creator, a digital human configurator. I sculpted a unique human for this project, whose identity I wanted to have a presence that embodied the ‘sense ‘ of ORGASM, ACTIVATED. In the artwork I’ve hand drawn the tonality, dimesson, makeup, and texture using Photoshop, Illustrator, and Blender, adding photographic real life swatches of makeup. The AR filter translated the immersive and transformational sensual experience of orgasm, which is a similar transformational dimension to makeup–both makeup and orgasms exist through connection with the skin. The movement in the filter allows me to create visual  poetry imagining the inner kinetic journey and felt experience.

OS: What were the attributes of NARS’ Orgasm shade that inspired the piece? 

DAB: It’s movement and emotional quality but also its paradox, its mercurial subtle shifts are delicate yet boldly complex, capable of depth and dimension, euphoric and serene in equal measures, much like an orgasm itself.

View ORGASAM, ACTIVATED here on SuperRare.

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Re-imagining queer histories: an interview with ClownVamp

Re-imagining queer histories: an interview with ClownVamp

Above: Flier announcing the opening of “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master”

Re-imagining queer histories: an interview with ClownVamp

1 year ago

You hear it all the time, mostly from people who wish they could sweep anyone a little different from them under the rug: “Why is everyone gay now?” The incredible thing is that they’re not wrong. Back in 2021, a Gallup poll demonstrated that LGBTQ identification is on the rise (at least among Americans), and between 2021 and 2022, a host of news organizations reported that more people think of themselves as queer than ever before. Reasons for this jump vary–as it’s become safer to be queer in public, more people have felt comfortable openly expressing themselves, and as the visibility of queer people has changed in society, more people understand that language exists to put words to their feelings and that there are communities of people like them. It’s not so much that there are more queer people, but rather, that queer people are more able to be out.

A lot of these people, these ones lamenting that everyone is gay now, don’t seem to understand that we’ve existed this entire time, for the whole of human history. So, why the disconnect? Queer people have been left out of the proverbial history books, strategically erased from culture, and barred from institutions. Consider the case of Emily Dickinson, whose love letters to Susan Gilbert were literally erased and rewritten after her death–the true contents of those letters were only unearthed in the 1990s using spectrographic technologies. And when someone’s queerness wasn’t erased, or when they weren’t excluded, it’s often because they intentionally hid who they were from the public. 

The artist ClownVamp, who I spoke to recently over a call, is working directly with the concept of the erasure of queer people, both historically and in the present, by imagining what could have been. In his exhibition, “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master,” ClownVamp collaborates with AI to bring to life a narrative that should have been present in art history, but wasn’t. From the ground up, he’s invented a gay Impressionist painter named Chester Charles, whose body of work expresses queerness in a way that painters of his time would have been forced to exclude from their art if they hoped to find any semblance of success, or even just acceptance.

“Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master”

Queer artists throughout history, and even now, have been coerced to censor themselves, to remove anything except the faintest traces of queerness from their works. This means that Impressionist paintings of gay men are typically a product of imagination instead of reality. But a chance encounter with such a painting, all thanks to an artifact present in Stable Diffusion 1.5, encouraged ClownVamp to explore. While considering fatherhood as a subject, he prompted the tool for an image of a father and a son, but because of an unanticipated twinning effect, an artifact of early AI systems, the result included not one dad, but two. 

“I had this weird brain glitch moment where I was just like, well, I’m looking at this sort of Impressionist piece of art and all of a sudden, somehow the machine made it super gay,” he told me. “I, as a gay man, haven’t seen these types of visuals at museums, and this super futuristic tool is rewiring the past for me, and showing both what could have been but what was also lost.”

With “Chester Charles,” ClownVamp wanted to trigger that same brain glitch he experienced when he saw the Stable Diffusion image, but this time, in his audience. The artworks of Chester Charles casually depict gay people, gay love, gay sexuality, and gay experiences, and, while juxtaposed with an Impressionist style, are intended to make the viewer take pause, providing a queer experience (in both the literal and theoretical sense); while they observe something as familiar as one of history’s most recognizable movements in painting, they also are confronted with something unexpected, something that makes them question the legitimacy of art history. Whose work was being suppressed? Whose art never received recognition beyond small, trusted circles in their time? 

ClownVamp goes even further than simply giving Chester a body of work; he also imbues that work with a narrative arc. When we spoke, explained that the show begins with a very traditional Impressionist painting of a shirtless man–not explicitly gay, but certainly subtextually. Then, as his career progresses, the artworks remain traditionally Impressionistic, but become increasingly visibly queer, depicting “these things that are not within that sort of traditional cognitive frame,” as ClownVamp puts it. Chester’s art also eventually comes to change. He describes Chester’s later work as looser, more colorful, and more abstract, using a more vivid palate and taking more risks in his artwork. “I thought if you went back in time and you were able to remove the self-censorship, that is sort of what we would have seen in an artist’s career.” 

Rebuilding the past with the future

From “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master”

From “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master”

AI is the tool that allowed a show like “Chester Charles” to come to life, and ClownVamp is certain that queerness lives in this technology. A part of it has to do with artifacts and glitches like the twinning effect, but the other relates more to the fact that AI allows artists and creators to challenge what is considered culturally and historically normative. He thinks one of the most interesting roles of AI “is this sort of revisionist ability to fuck shit up. You can just take history and bash it with a hammer, and show what could and should have been. And hopefully, that makes people realize, you know, what’s important going forward, too.”

Much of ClownVamp’s body of work uses AI as a storytelling tool. His series “Detective Jack” is a “Barbie noir,” a classic noir detective story with a pinkwashed, somewhat feminine visual aesthetic. The character Jack himself is not exactly gay (though ClownVamp says he thinks of him as being “on the spectrum”), but the use of AI allows him to take the image of something as recognizable as a hard-boiled, Sam Spade type detective and, as with “Chester Charles,” develop a new visual language to explore it. Unlike “Detective Jack,” another of ClownVamp’s series, “The Truth,” features a gay protagonist. But set in the 19th century, it reimagines history beyond literal queer identity, weaving a tale of vampires and aliens, forcing the past and the future, the real and the fantastical, to interact.

ClownVamp didn’t come to NFT art from visual art, or even cryptocurrency. His first introduction to NFTs was NBA Top Shot, despite not being a sports fan. What fascinated him were the questions the technology and its potential uses posed: What is value? How do we decide what is valuable and what isn’t? During PFP summer he did some flipping, but ultimately decided that collecting art proved more his style. As publicly available AI models began to crop up, they intrigued him–he had a background in writing, but he hasn’t touched visual media since a stint as a go-to pop-punk photographer for bands without a real budget during high school, and AI became the tool that allowed him to start working across both writing and visual art as mediums. He told me that he likes to do old things in new ways.

From “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master”

As we continued to speak about “Chester Charles,” ClownVamp said he wanted the show to be “subtly transgressive.” The topic of queerness in art history arose, these artists who are often remembered as “lifetime bachelors,” but, who evidence suggests, may have lived queer lives. Even in more recent history, he notes that part of the general lack of gay art is about industry exclusion, but also comes down to the loss of a whole generation of gay artists in the 80s, people who were stripped of lives and practices and futures because of homophobic neglect and stigma.

In the present, in the cryptoart space, ClownVamp actually felt a degree of nervousness around including an openly gay character in “The Truth.” Gay cryptoart isn’t particularly visible, and “people spend a significant portion of their life often not able to fully express themselves, and have to learn to navigate what is and is not okay to express.” There was a fear that maybe, it wouldn’t be okay to express gayness through art–the abscense of gay art in the crypto space begged the question: If there’s so little gay art here, is it because it’s not a safe environment for it?   

Instead, when ClownVamp had the character come out, his collectors and followers met him with warmth and support–he’s observed that the cryptoart space doesn’t always appear welcoming on the surface, and there are certainly structural issues at play making it more difficult for queer creators to find their footing, but also found that “when people take the dive, generally there’s excitement and willingness there. And while it’s definitely not the gayest space of all time, it’s not as bad as it might seem.” 

With the “Chester Charles” show, ClownVamp told me he wants viewers to understand that queer voices in art history, and history overall, have been muted and erased, and that those few voices that haven’t represent something greater and something special. He’s right. Those voices are our history. And, to round out this emphasis on history, the show, which is curated and powered by SuperRare and Transient Labs, won’t just be a digital exhibition, but also a physical one at The Oculus World Trade Center in New York. This IRL exhibition will not simply introduce the world to Chester’s art, but to him, using objects and assets to give context to the artist, his life and times, and the discovery of his work in the modern day.  

“That’s one of my goals with the show, and you’ll see in the actual layout of the show and the design, and some of the physical artifacts, that it’s meant to make you hesitate, ‘But wait. Is this not real?’”  

He also said he hopes the show will help his audience see AI-assisted art through a new lens. “AI is a complicated, nuanced thing that has a whole lot of problems, but also has a lot of good to it, and can be very tender and very sweet.” He’s noticed that when people discuss AI, they tend to focus on the extreme negatives, and rarely focus on the real good AI can do. “I think if people don’t see that, they’re gonna lose out on this huge, literally once a lifetime opportunity. Not once in a generation, once in a history opportunity.”

Speaking of AI, ClownVamp is working on an upcoming guest curation with SuperRare, which features not only all queer artists, but also all artists who work with AI. While some of the exhibited artists are ones he collects or follows, some he sought out through the recommendations of other artists and friends, a conscious effort to step outside his bubble. The curated artists all use AI in very different ways, including post-photography, glitch art, collage, and “some stuff that I can’t really describe, it’s so wild and cool.” They’re geographically diverse individuals, too, though ClownVamp’s most important criteria simply considered artists doing something different and new. 

From “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master”

From “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master”

From “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master”

He wants to showcase the range of AI’s uses. When people think of AI, they often think of “an incredibly down the middle Midjourny output.” In reality, that’s only one small part of the landscape. “It can add, speed up, make easier, make more inventive any part of the creative process. There are people who are using it to create textures on incredibly complex blender models. There are people who are using it to reimagine their memories, or people who are using it, like Sky Goodman, to create alternative fashion.”

Between “Chester Charles” and his guest curation, ClownVamp is marrying the queer medium of AI with the legacies of queer artists, past, present, or fictional, unsung or in hiding, erased or hypervisible. “Chester Charles: The Lost Grand Master” opens June 21st, on-chain and in New York.

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Who wins in web3?: Queer creators, bias, and the blockchain

Who wins in web3?: Queer creators, bias, and the blockchain

Above: Absolute Divinity” by Laurel Charleston on SuperRare

Who wins in web3?: Queer creators, bias, and the blockchain

1 year ago

Early September, 65 degrees and sunny: a perfect morning to cross Broadway into Bed-Stuy and gaze at the homey brownstones on the way to meet a new friend for coffee. We first connected a couple weeks prior, when my partner and I went to Ginger’s–at the time, it was Brooklyn’s only lesbian bar. We had been lamenting the homogeneous look of the crowd when we noticed him1 and his companions–two classic butches and a Wednesday Adams type femme–cutting through a sea of designer-branded jackets and ribbed white tank tops. I was too shy to say hi, but lucky for me, he came over and introduced himself. “I follow you on TikTok,” he said. “I like your takes.”

When we met for coffee, he introduced me to the barista, a friend of his. A butch whose relationship to gender was not far from mine, my new friend had worked in coffee shops and bars in Brooklyn since he moved here. He was also a photographer, and while I was very out of practice, I have a background in photography and cinematography–given my role at SuperRare, the conversation naturally shifted to NFTs.

“When they were getting big, I thought about doing NFTs with my photos,” he told me. “But after looking at everything, it seemed like a lot.”

He wasn’t wrong about that. As a working queer creative, he’d need to take time away from his day job, his photography work, and his side gigs to learn how to set up a wallet, to acquire cryptocurrency, and to research which platforms were best suited to host his art. Then, he’d need to figure out how to market his photography to a new audience, convince his existing audience to learn how to set up a wallet and buy crypto, and help them navigate a cryptoart marketplace. On top of that? Ethereum gas fees2 were another barrier of entry, making it difficult for new crypto artists to afford to mint, and for existing fans to afford to buy.

I always see people talking about egalitarianism and democracy when it comes to Web3, especially cryptoart, but is this reality? Or just hope and perception? It’s a narrative told time and time again: Artists can now bypass gallery gatekeepers, sell the type of work that doesn’t fit the trad art mold, and earn royalties. The scene defocuses Western art, allowing artists from the East and Global South to connect with collectors who may never have found them otherwise. It affords autonomy to artists. All of these things are true, but other problems haven’t gone away. Not to utilize a cliché, but we live in a society; too many people already start off with the disadvantages built in.

Our Bath” by Dawnia Darkstone on SuperRare

Let’s talk numbers

According to data aggregated and analyzed by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Queer people were more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic than their cishet counterparts (24% reported job loss versus 18% across the board, with the disparity being even more startling among black and latino queer people), and “while the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in increasing unemployment and decreasing incomes among LGBTQ+ workers, these disparities have been building in recent decades in the United States.” The lesbian wage premium fell from 10% in 2000 to 0% in 2018, and in 2019, 31% of queer black households and 24% of queer latino households reported earning less than $25,000 annually, compared to 24% and 15% for black and latino households where income earners are not queer.

Three of the five industries with the highest rates of queer workers (restaurants and food service, K-12 education, and retail) were also among ones hit hardest by the pandemic, and workers in those fields already earn lower wages in comparison to workers in other lines of employment. Additionally, housing security remains a significant concern among queer people, who are less confident in their abilities to pay monthly living expenses than cishet people, with trans people being significantly more vulnerable than cis queer people in that respect.3 Queer people are also more likely to rent their dwellings (41%) as opposed to cishet people (25%), leaving them more vulnerable in the face of lifted eviction moratoriums. And that doesn’t even cover the sweeping waves of anti-LGBTQ legislation. Over the last three years, already statistically unstable living situations for many queer people in the United States have gone from precarious to terrifying, with no immediate signs of change.

In my own experience, I’ve noticed that looking like the archetype of a classic dyke and being trans in a way that’s difficult to hide has made certain employers–the ones who traditionally pay higher wages–write me off. Even after I earned a master’s degree4, published consistently, and applied all wide-eyed and ready to entry-level editorial positions, I still spent years working in retail, struggling to push my wages above $35k, with student loans and rent piling up. All things considered, I wouldn’t have sunk my cash into crypto or NFTs either.

I don’t want to waste my word count talking about the representation of marginalized people in Web3 or telling you about how tech is classically a cishet white boys club, and how Web3 is no exception. If you gave me 1 wei for every article I’ve already read on the topic, I could pay off what I owe the Department of Education twice over. This isn’t to say these issues aren’t important or worthy of coverage. But the question I want to ask is: Who’s really getting the spoils of Web3?

Communities around blockchain-based assets do seem to have opened some opportunities. While it is true that a majority of cryptocurrency holders are men5, black and hispanic people actually hold crypto at higher rates than Americans on average. Plenty of factors contribute to why, but one of the biggest is that people don’t want to (or can’t) buy into financial systems that have historically excluded them. Of course, this also means that during crashes like the recent bear market, these are the people hit the hardest. In that sense, while crypto has helped create new wealth for traditionally marginalized peoples, it has also made them the most susceptible to plummeting markets. Is something really an opportunity if what drove you to it was necessity? If you’re more likely to get fucked over than someone else, just by virtue of ethnicity or race? It’s definitely more complicated than crypto = salvation.

So, what’s the solution? There doesn’t appear to be a good one yet.

We help ourselves

Strippaverse team at its drop party. Courtesy of Bee Davies

Returning to my community of queer people in Brooklyn, in September 2022, a friend put an event on my rader. Hosted by an organization called Qrypto Queer, it was a beginner crypto workshop for queer people. After digging a little further, I realized the org was founded by Bee Davies, known for her NFT web series “Hivemind” and her Web3 production company, Hive Global Media. The organization aims to usher queer people into Web3 by providing educational resources and spaces to connect. I remembered hearing some buzz around the series–a thriller starring Davies herself and including a cast of mostly queer people and people of color, it stood out as something new in a sea of unremarkable NFT projects. When I asked to schedule an interview, she had already flown back west, but I snagged some time with her for a conversation over video.

Qrypto Queer held its first major event last summer as an auxiliary to NFT.NYC; over 100 people showed up. Maybe it came at just the right time. This fall, I stumbled across an event hosted by “The Lesbian Bar Project” in partnership with Jägermeister, describing itself as “an educational and interactive bar experience in Decentraland showcasing archival and historic images of lesbian bars from the Library of Congress.” I wondered if the metaverse foray would isolate its audience, or if it came on the heels of wider adoption. Queer people haven’t been the most crypto-curious. In fact, most queer people I know are crypto-hostile, or really, that’s how it used to be. More recently, it left me shocked when I described my job to a group of new queer friends, and they seemed interested, not angry. Maybe queer people wanted crypto now. Maybe they read a story about FEWOCiOUS, or caught this interview with Laurel Charleston and wondered, what’s SuperRare?

Absolute Divinity” by Laurel Charleston on SuperRare

Davies explained that the initial Qrypto Queer concept came from her own experiences with isolation at tech and NFT conferences. Even in a women’s NFT group, something still didn’t quite click for her. “There’s a lot of women’s groups now, and that’s so amazing,” Davies said. “I started to see more and more popping up, and felt like my energy could be better utilized creating a space for the LGBTQ community.” She knew that plenty of queer people already existed in tech, that organizations like Lesbians Who Tech held annual conferences,6 but those spaces didn’t make room for the crypto savvy. She had the privilege of time and education, and wanted to share the knowledge she learned in the NFT and tech spaces with her own community. And while she acknowledges that as a cis white person, she can’t represent all queer people, “activism has always been in the back of my mind in this space, and in focusing on groups who need their voices elevated the most.”

Ultimately, she wants to see queer generational wealth grow, but testing the Web3 waters in queer spaces remains tricky. “I have found a lot more resistance probably within the queer community, and that’s because they’re such great activists and they’re quick to question things.” Sustainability is a strong contributing factor when it comes to friction, but she thinks that since the Ethereum merge, things may start to shift. As more queer people enter the space, those on the outside might begin to finally see themselves reflected in Web3, and maybe that will be enough to entice them.

“I think socioeconomic status is the biggest one,” Davies said when I asked about barriers to entry. The perception, in her observation, is that you already need ETH to play the crypto game, but she hopes to mitigate this by airdropping people starter NFTs in conjunction with “Hivemind.” Your ETH will always just be worth whatever the price of ETH is, but an NFT is worth whatever someone else feels like paying for it, which could eventually be a lot.

I first interviewed Davies several months ago, and when we caught up recently, I got to speak with her about a newer project as she was coming off Outer Edge (previously NFT LA). “Strippaverse,” a metaverse wrapped in a film, is a psychological thriller about a game dev who founds a virtual strip club for extra cash, but whose world is rocked when a fan starts to stalk her. Its focus is on flipping the script, putting power back into the hands of queer people and women, allowing them to express their sexualities and commodify their bodies on their terms, as opposed to the patriarchy. Strippaverse itself is a safe and private place for women and queer people to be themselves. And, true to ethos, funding from the project is going back into the wallets of sex workers.

Strippaverse metaverse. Courtesy Bee Davies.

In the meantime, Davies is keeping all Qrypto Queer workshops free with the option to donate, and has opened a workshop space in LA for creators to drop in, ask questions, and learn. She doesn’t want queer people to be left behind in this new and growing ecosystem. “As long as we have the right people leading this community and supporting them, we’re gonna make it, and for the right reasons,” she said.

I agreed with her and appreciated her optimism. But I also found myself feeling cynical. How can we ensure the right people are leading the space? How can we ensure they’re here for the right reasons? Who determines how they are being educated? And when marginalized people enter the space, after education, after support from their communities, how realistic is it to think, for example, that queer artists and creators will be able to sell their work successfully, without experiencing prejudice or bias?

I’ve asked these questions before in writing, in Twitter spaces, among colleagues and friends. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Dawnia Darkstone, better known online as Letsglitchit, over Twitter DM. A legend in the glitch art scene who is recognized just as much for her work as she is for her technical contributions to the medium, Dawnia is also among some of the most high profile trans artists in crypto. Initially involved in art spaces on Tumblr and Facebook, she began working with NFTs following connections she made as an administrator and curator for the Glitch Artists Collective, which is likely the biggest online community dedicated to glitch art. “So many people involved with glitch art are queer/trans or otherwise fairly open to such things,” she emphasized when I asked her about her experiences in the NFT space, acknowledging that coming from the glitch art scene made her move to the blockchain smoother in comparison to queer and trans artists working in other styles and communities. Kate the Cursed had entered the space a few months before, and her presence at that time meant a lot.

But a few prominent figures weren’t evidence that trans crypto artists had it easy. The number of trans artists who find widespread recognition in the NFT space versus the number of quality trans artists I’m aware of is disproportionately small, and the most important factor stopping them from breaking through the noise is obvious to those in the know. “It’s the fact that we’re trans,” Dawnia told me. Despite stereotypes about the demographics of the arts, as a formal industry the field has systematically excluded those who aren’t cisgender, heterosexual white men. “Adding magic internet money to the equation doesn’t change this formula, there’s still so much work that needs to be done. I know personally that many marginalized people have taken to anonymous artsonas as a means to counteract this, which is perhaps easier in the cryptosphere. This is obviously not a fix for the problem though. We shouldn’t have to hide who we are to reach the top.”

Liquid Codex” by Dawnia Darkstone on SuperRare

Dawnia mints on Ethereum and Tezos–I’ve noticed that queer artists seem to gravitate towards Tezos in greater numbers, and she said she’s observed that, too. The same goes for glitch artists, she told me. We can only guess why–likely the cost of entry was a factor at the beginning, and perhaps before the Ethereum merge, concerns around sustainability played a role. Whatever it is, queer crypto artists have flocked there. Of course, plenty of queer artists still mint on Ethereum-built platforms, but you can’t deny that the culture is different. Dawnia sells consistently on the Tezos marketplace Objkt.com, for example, but around the time I first spoke to her, she had only sold one piece of art on SuperRare. Her genesis on the marketplace, “Liquid Codex,” which was displayed on the big, bright screens of both Times Square and Shibuya Crossing–moments any artist would kill for–had only received one offer, and an offer under 0.3 ETH, at that. Like I said, I’m cynical.

“I think we might be circling back around to the beginning of our conversation,” Dawnia said when I asked where she thought the disparity between blockchains came from. “Not to toot my own horn too much, but it’s hard to imagine a cishet white man with my amount of accolades performing as poorly on Ethereum.” I don’t think she’s wrong.

Between our interview and publishing, “Liquid Codex” sold for a little over 3.6 ETH. But it took almost a whole year after minting to even receive a second offer.

Ultimately, Dawnia knows that the issue goes beyond cryptoart, beyond blockchain, beyond the web. Really, that’s the point. She thinks that for now, further decentralization will help, as will ensuring that people from marginalized backgrounds find their ways into positions of influence, especially when it comes to curation. Like Davies, she’s optimistic–as the world changes, the crypto world changes with it. She’s observed the distribution of crypto wealth start to shift, especially with initiatives founded by queer people in the space, like aGENDAdao and the Queer Museum of Digital Art. But, “we can have progressive platforms with inclusion initiatives and so forth, but as long as the people collecting art are stuck in the same traditional art world buying patterns of ‘this artist is a woman/trans/queer/a POC and their art won’t resell well on secondary,’ it won’t amount to much.” And there is certainly hope for actionable change. For example, Dawnia recently co-curated the second iteration of Sotheby’s landmark glitch art auction, “Glitch: Beyond Binary.” The initial plans for the auction were scrapped after community outcry over the lack of artists who were either women or non-men; Patrick Amadon even pulled out of the auction in protest. To hold institutions accountable, people need to be willing to make noise.

Integration does not need to mean assimilation

The bathroom at Cubbyhole, one of NYC’s last-standing lesbian bars. Photo by the author.

It’s become increasingly important for the crypto space to veer queerer and for queer communities to adapt. The isolation Davies felt in the NFT space is one I hear repeated by queer crypto creators time and time again. And Dawnia’s experience with IRL queer community is one many crypto queers are familiar with, too. When she began minting, she also began to lose friends: “There were so many hit-pieces about crypto-NFTs around that time and I feel like so many queer folks, who had months prior decried the ‘plastic straws’ debacle as corporations shifting the blame of systemic issues to the average consumer, latched onto them. I felt really betrayed, to be honest.” The hypocrisy was apparent. If she instead took a job with one of the corporations mostly responsible for the destruction of the planet, she knows the response would have been different. “I would have been met with congratulations, or at worst ‘you have to do what ya gotta do to survive in this capitalist system.’”

In queer spaces, we often talk about joy. The joy of community, friendship, love, gender euphoria. That joy is genuine, but the emphasis is often just as much a coping mechanism. Queer people are not homogenous, and even in our own spaces, isolation is king. People who live in smaller communities get hit the hardest, but even someone like myself, living where I do, knowing that I could probably go a week without interacting with a cishet person if I really tried, can struggle with finding community. Being the only trans person in a room of cis queers, for example. There are a million variations, coming down to gender, sexuality, race, religion, politics, economic class–you name it. It’s hard to encounter queer people who are queer in exactly the way that you are. That’s why so many of us already turn to online spaces for community, to meet people who understand us. It’s such a lonely lifestyle is a classic line used to scare us into rescinding our truths, dangling the ultimatum of rejection over our heads. You want to be queer? Sure. But you’ll be alone and you’ll be sad. Good luck.

It’s not accurate to solely characterize queerness as loneliness. Finding your people is hard, but when you do, they’re your family. It’s complicated, and as queer creators in the NFT space experience isolation from two sides, change becomes essential on each end. “I’ve not received much flack for it in a while,” Dawia said, which eased my mind. “I’m not sure if this means attitudes are changing or attention spans are just short, or if I successfully weeded out the detractors.” If NFT art can succeed on one of its central tenets, building community through peer to peer connective webs, perhaps it can cut through some of the early vitriol and skepticism.

So who wins in Web3? In many instances to date, it’s the people who have always won. But values are changing, and while people in the NFT space are responsible for uplifting their own communities, the real driver of progress comes from outside, and it’s not impossible. I think back to “The Lesbian Bar Project’s” Decentraland event, this merging of spaces that until recently have felt antithetical. Bars hold a specific place in the hearts of queer people, in our histories. In the United States, lesbian bars are disappearing. I mentioned earlier that Ginger’s was the only lesbian bar in Brooklyn–a second opened in my neighborhood just this month. In Manhattan, there are two. One in Queens hosts pop-up events, and it’s been trying to fund a permanent space for the better part of two years. With so few places to gather, what’s been the community’s response? To adapt. One of the most popular lesbian spots in Brooklyn is a weekly party hosted at a straight bar in Williamsburg, one with a big backyard and a clientele that usually conjures too many images of college for my taste. But every Wednesday night, it’s transformed into a sapphic haven. In my own neighborhood, there are few queer bars proper, but because a high population of queer people call it home, most bars are queer bars as long as the right people show up, and the cishets are so used to it by now that they barely blink when we roll in. A dedicated space has value, absolutely. But in the absence of what we need, we’re pretty skilled at crafting alternatives, as long as we’re not meeting hostility on the outside.

And hostility absolutely still exists in the space. Ask anyone who’s both trans and in Web3. Once, after reading a Twitter thread by Klara Vollstaedt, I checked to see if any of my Web3 colleagues followed noted transphobes like Matt Walsh or the dedicated anti-queer hate account Libs of Tiktok.

I unfollowed a lot of people after that.

Want the NFT space to be better? Good. Then go help move the needle of society, because that’s the surest way to make it happen. It’s a monumental task, but when you scale it down, maybe it’s just as simple as being a straight and cisgender person at a Brooklyn bar who doesn’t see anything threatening about the presence of queer people. Maybe it’s as easy as recognizing the humanity in someone else and sticking up for them when they’re vulnerable. Maybe it’s buying work from queer artists and supporting mutual aid DAOs. Maybe it’s banding together for mutual support. We always say we’re a community, after all–let’s act like it.

Footnotes:

1.Yes, he/him lesbians exist. No, I am not doing pronoun discourse. Go read Stone Butch Blues.

2. Hopefully, this will change soon.

3. An estimated 40% of homeless youth are also queer, and around 80% of queer homeless youth report that they became homeless after being forced from their homes or running away from their families.

4. I had to put myself in debt for life by earning a master’s degree to find an entry level job in a professional field–that should tell you something about what it’s like out here.

5. I can’t find any reputable data on the number of LGBTQ people in Web3, be it about cryptocurrency holders, crypto artists, NFT holders, etc. I would like to make the case that there is a need in Web3 for data on the participation of LGBTQ people.

6. Their 2022 speaker list included the likes of Roxane Gay, Rosie O’Donnell, and Cameron Esposito among other celebrities and tech world business figures, but no one it seemed from the crypto world.

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Curated Conversations: Cyber YuYu

Curated Conversations: Cyber YuYu

“Bad Bunny, Dead Bunny” by YuYu, 2023. Available on SuperRare now.

Curated Conversations: Cyber YuYu

1 year ago

YuLiang Liu, better known online as Cyber YuYu, is a Berlin-based multidisciplinary artist whose work comments on the relationships between identity, society, and exclusion. Utilizing his own image, he directly confronts and exposes the types of gazes and subjects that have traditionally been granted the privilege of representation throughout art history, and draws explicit attention to those that have been intentionally suppressed. 

SuperRare Labs Content Strategist Oli Scialdone interviewed YuYu about power, pain, appropriation, and his new collection, “GAG.”

Oli Scialdone: In your artwork, you recontextualize pieces from the Western canon by inserting yourself into the frame. Can you tell me a little about what it means to juxtapose yourself with these works? 

Cyber YuYu: Professor Jun once wrote in the context of my work, “a queer and post-colonial rewriting of the loving, desiring, warlike body, which deconstructs the visual representations at the foundation of hetero-centric Western cultures,” and I have never felt more understood before. For centuries, art has been a matrix of fabrication, reinforcement, and embellishment of social norms, norms that often saw danger in representation and intentionally excluded people like me. Through my practice, I position myself as an intruder, a character that does not belong yet somehow tricks the viewer to believe it has always been there, to pinpoint those manifestations.

Looking back to when I first started exploring this method, I realize I wasn’t fully aware of the conceptual layers I could develop with it. At first, it seemed like a protest, a way for me to navigate living in a new environment different from what I was accustomed to. Having just moved to Germany from Taiwan, where I was born and raised, creative expression seemed to be the only outlet I could use to express my emotional frustration. Art offers a unique way of communicating universally—even without being able to properly speak a language, you know you can be seen and heard.

As the first cultural shocks started to recede and I got the chance to delve deeper into the fundamentals of the issues I was exploring, it became apparent that I was not just looking to denounce or criticize the norms that regulate our behaviors, but instead, I am more intrigued by the idea of inventing alternative and provocative identifications to resist dominant patterns and narratives. In juxtaposing myself with these works I have found a balanced way to disturb perceptions and provoke reactions, but in parallel, to study and understand the culture of the place I live my life and build my career. For some, it might seem as if I denounce the cultural validity of those works, or the historical significance of the artists behind them. In reality, I have an immense amount of respect for the artists’ crafts, I am in love with the works I am re-interpreting. And part of this new interpretation is an homage, an attempt to bring them to today and allow them to re-flourish, centuries after their initial creation.

In juxtaposing myself with these works I have found a balanced way to disturb perceptions and provoke reactions, but in parallel, to study and understand the culture of the place I live my life and build my career.

— YuYu

The Swing 💎,” YuYu’s SuperRare Genesis, 2022.
OS: “GAG” takes on a somewhat darker tone than many of your other artworks, but still maintains the same playful energy. What are the ideas behind this collection? 

CYY: “GAG” is situated within the current socio-political climate, which is marked by ongoing

debates surrounding issues of power, control, and identity. Naturally, as both my work and myself mature, the themes I explore become less superficial and instead focus on underlying social structures that are not always apparent at first glance. Considering the severity of the topics I am touching on, I find it extremely important to approach them with a sense of humility and humor, to strip them of their inherent meanings and allow myself to review them in a new light that craves reinterpretation. As an extension, the three works in this collection utilize elements, such as the BDSM accessories, to soften the torturing depictions and act as armor to empower oneself.

The foundation of this collection lies within a conceptual visualization of power dynamics between artists and society at large, whether we talk about the general perception of what constitutes an artist, or more specifically how the relationship between artist and market unfolds in contemporary times. Building upon the concept of the “tortured genius,” a phrase that implies that an individual’s genius and their suffering are interconnected, with the creative output being inextricably linked to inner turmoil, this collection exaggerates societal perceptions of what comprises art by establishing a haunting imagery of amplified pain and suffering. In a way, it questions the limits of our definition of art by amplifying the dramaturgy and trauma to the extreme, blurring the lines between pain and pleasure under the omnipresent sight of the viewer. While the imagery draws inspiration from the centuries of persecution of marginalized individuals, the collection as a whole uses the concept of the “tortured genius” as a lens through which to explore the broader themes of dominance and submission, establishing a visual representation of how power is wielded and controlled in different contexts. Despite my voice being seemingly silenced, and gagged, throughout this collection, my message aims to transcend the digital and physical displays and demonstrate how individual presence can not be forced to oblivion. 

OS: The BDSM imagery really drives home the point of power and submission. What representations of power are you addressing in these works? What do you think is the relationship between artists and pain?

CYY: Pain is a fundamental emotion of human existence. While happiness comes briefly and disappears shortly after, pain and sorrow create cracks that never fully heal. Pain is what makes us human, to experience multiple layers of it and continue living. The relationship between artists and pain is complex and multifaceted, yet above all, deeply personal. Whether approached in an autobiographical way, as a source of motivation to express inner turmoil, or as a thematic element in their work, pain in the art can take many forms depending on the individual’s practice and perspective. 

What is particularly interesting to me and a main topic of investigation through this collection, is how this deeply personal relationship becomes a commodity. Is pain what creates art and thus; is pain the art? The three works address this question through different perspectives, discussing both external and internal factors causing pain, setting them in parallel to the suggestion that creators must suffer in order to achieve artistic excellence. Submissive – Dominant power structures are not always easy to distinguish, with energy flowing both ways and a mutual acceptance of the exchange in place, those perplexing relationships were pivotal to the development of “GAG.” 

American Dream” by YuYu, 2022.
OS: Can you talk about the story that unites each piece in “GAG?” Are there different themes or ideas behind each one?

CYY: All three works that constitute “GAG” have been developed under the same concept and the idea of visualizing a complex interplay of power dynamics. The artworks draw upon borrowed elements from both classical paintings and BDSM culture references inspired by the place I call home, Berlin. Each of the works presented in this collection approaches the concept of the “tortured genius” as it relates to the three main pillars of a) society, b) religion, and c) the self. 

Representing society, “Bad Bunny, Dead Bunny” references the Mandarin slang term “Rabbit,” a derogatory label aimed at the queer community. The work takes inspiration from Solomon J Solomon’s “Samson,” depicting the biblical hero weakened and bound after revealing the source of his strength to his lover Delilah. The work symbolizes the oppressive norms of society and comments on the ongoing persecution of minority groups. 

“Praise be,” a work inspired by “The Martyr of Fanaticism” by Jose de Britoc, approaches the topic of dominance from the perspective of religion, the ruler of our social norms for centuries. Perhaps the most emotionally charged out of the three works, “Praise Be” depicts, through my portraiture, the martyrdom of countless “divergent” individuals that have found themselves against the wheels of religious righteousness.   

Lastly, “Jokes on You” is the final piece of this three-piece collection, serving as a self-reflection statement. Based on “Stańczyk” by Jan Matejko, I position myself as the sad clown gagged and soon-to-be-consumed by the skeletons surrounding me. The piece questions whether someone gagged me by force or I gagged myself, offering a moment of retrospection regarding how societal expectations affect individual decisions.  

The three works together offer a narrational journey into the complexities of human societies and explore socio-political manifestations of dominance over the less privileged bodies. They aim to destabilize our “truths” and to reveal the ways in which cultural codes are constructed. 

“Jokes on Yu” by YuYu, 2023. Available on SuperRare now.
OS: “GAG” will be at IHAM in Paris, in addition to dropping on SuperRare. What can you share about the exhibition?

CYY: To begin with, “GAG” was initiated as a project meant to manifest in a physical space. When IHAM invited me to present a solo exhibition with them I instantly thought how this was an incredible opportunity to approach my work in a less digitally-focused manner. To give you a bit of context, prior to my involvement with the Web3 space and in parallel to establishing my artistic identity, my main occupation was in the fields of cultural and electronic music event production. As a result, and regardless of my adoration of our digital utopia, I highly value the impact and immersive potential of the physical space. In real life, the artist sets a stage, and for as long as you are in it, you are bound by them. Precisely due to this unique role allocation, the contradiction between the power dynamics within the works versus the ones manifesting in the physical gallery creates the perfect playground to express the fragility of the concept of power. 

The whole concept of this collection/exhibition has been built in a way that allows the topics to reflect in three dimensions, making the exhibition a complete manifestation of my conceptual input, and placing the viewers at the epicenter of it. For the past couple of months I have worked with a team of people, to name a few my two curators Grida and Sixela who helped bring the idea to life, and the London-based music producer MarcelDune who created an hour-long soundscape, to collectively transform the entire gallery grounds into a visceral experience that echo the individual themes explored through the three main artworks of the exhibition.

I could continue rambling forever but I have to maintain an element of surprise for those planning to attend the show (lol). For those interested, the exhibition will last from the 10th to the 20th of May, and I will be physically there from 10 to 13. Come! 

“Praise Be” by YuYu, 2023. Available on SuperRare now.
OS: What brought you to digital art to begin with? When did you first become interested in NFTs?

CYY: As a millennial, I was born into digital art. We might have not fully realized it, but every experience we had growing up has been infused with large amounts of digitalization. Even how we experience traditional, physical art, for its majority, has been through digital lenses. Art that would normally be experienced inside the halls of esteemed museums located in the most elite capitals of the West, was at the same time available to access from anywhere in the world as long as there was an internet connection. When I felt the need to start exploring creative outlets for my thoughts and fears, digital experimentation seemed like a no-brainer. 

I think like most of us, the pandemic has been a pivotal moment in my life. I was already working on my creations for a couple of years by that time, having participated in multiple international exhibitions and publications, but in no way I was yet able to fully sustain myself from it. While things were moving in a good direction, COVID-19 brought everything to an absolute standstill. For the bigger part of 2020, I went into a rabbit hole of self-doubting and questioning what happens next. I was extremely lucky to have a partner who pushed me through and introduced me to the concept of blockchain and NFTs. It was a revelation. Not only because I could start filling the financial gaps caused by the pandemic, but because, for the first time since I started creating art, I felt there was an alternative to the traditional art markets that can often feel excluding for queer, non-white individuals. It only took me a few months of learning more about the technicalities of blockchain before I decided to fully join in 2021. 

Not Today, Bitch” by YuYu, 2022.
Due to the nature of those interactions, allow me to rephrase your question to “What does it mean to create a place for yourself” rather than “find”. I feel “create” describes the journey of belonging more accurately, as it entails the tremendous amounts of physical and emotional labor that goes into it.

— YuYu

OS: Your artwork frequently subverts the white, straight, European male gaze. It’s unapologetically and beautifully queer. Since we’re talking about societal representations of power, what does it mean for you–a queer Asian artist–to find a place for yourself in traditionally heterosexual, Eurocentric art spaces?

CYY: Forcing yourself on a table that traditionally rejects or ignores you comes with a heavy emotional weight, as you will often witness yourself dimming your light or silencing your voice before being able to fully embrace your ways of expression and being. “GAG” explores this exact topic, the instances under which, whether as a forced or self-caused result, an individual voice becomes muted under the pressure and expectations of others. Due to the nature of those interactions, allow me to rephrase your question to “What does it mean to create a place for yourself” rather than “find”. I feel “create” describes the journey of belonging more accurately, as it entails the tremendous amounts of physical and emotional labor that goes into it. Speaking for myself, I know I have a long way to go to be considered and feel equal to those in more privileged positions, but for one thing, I feel proud of myself for my perseverance and determination to not just be a queer Asian token but instead acknowledged for my contribution in the space and the art canon as a whole. Somehow similar to my work, an invader holds the power to disturb pre-established structures and I like to think of my presence inside West-centric, heteronormative spaces as a manifestation of this exact disturbance. 

OS: Are you working on anything else you’re excited about?

CYY: Of course! I wake up every day feeling excited about the projects I have in the pipeline. At the moment, I am most excited about my upcoming participation in the Non-Fungible Conference as a speaker and a showcasing artist, where I will be presenting a completely new side of who YuYu is! I cannot wait to show everyone how layered my brand is and of course, enjoy engaging with the community under the blazing Lisbon sun! 

Beyond that, I am currently working with the Jane Goodall Institute, one of the largest environmental causes in the globe, for a fundraising event taking place during the Cannes Film Festival, while also discussing some incredibly exciting things for Asia in Q3 2023! 

Can not share more for now but I am sure 2023 will be a year to remember!

20

Oliver Scialdone

Oliver Scialdone is a queer writer and artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They earned a dual-MFA from The New School, and their work can be found in Peach Mag, ImageOut Write, and elsewhere. They used to host the reading series Satellite Lit and they're the Associate Editor at SuperRare Magazine.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice