Queer|Art, the LGBTQ+ art center based in New York, extends much-needed support to trans women of color by selecting an artist each year for its Illuminations Grant for Black Trans Women Visual Artists. This consists of a “$10,000 cash grant, professional development support, and individual studio visits with members of the judge’s panel to support her practice.” This year’s winner of the Illuminations Grant has been announced as New Orleans-based artist Lee Laa Ray Guillory.
“Interdisciplinary artist Lee Laa Guillory deploys ritual-based photographic and performance work to reveal the presence of transgenerational trauma among Black femmes in rural Louisiana,” Queer|Art describes.
“In Guillory’s deeply intimate and enigmatic photographic work, meticulously staged embodied practices such as hair maintenance and oral tradition are magnified through enchanting lighting and cool hues. Dense braids often dangle divinely from above, threading together quiet moments of reflection. Other times, coils of hair are clutched in outrage. Documenting Black femmes in meditation, enraged states, and all that lies in between, Guillory’s cathartic photographs illuminate the healing potential within the sacred.”
Queer|Art, which was founded in 2009 by filmmaker Ira Sachs, has sought to provide a haven for upcoming LGBTQ+ artists given that so many potential mentors of the past generation have been lost to the AIDS crisis. They do so by bridging the gap of financial and institutional support that so often overlooks queer artists. These include awards like the Illumination Grant, exhibitions, creative and professional development.
Lee Laa Ray Guillory was chosen from applicants across 17 states, and this year’s panel of judges reflected disciplines ranging from photography, fashion, and visual art.
Judge Connie (Girl) Fleming, a New York City performer and fashion icon, commented: “Lee Laa Ray Guillory submitted work that moved our spirits & hearts, with a weighty context that carries it on into a future of widening and illuminating the Black Trans experience and its artistry.”
Judge and visionary photographer Texas Isaiah added: “Lee Laa Ray Guillory has shown exceptional insight into the interiority of Black mysticism and alternative photographic practices. Her profound methods will insert her into a contemporary visual history filled with heartfelt and inventive image-makers who are changing how we witness ourselves and each other.”
Speaking for herself, Guillroy recognized the crucial lifeline the grant has given her. “Winning this grant will afford me the financial aid necessary to continue my photographic research which aims to interrogate both the spiritual intimacies of Black Southern Femme ecosystems and the ancestral veneration practices we often employ as a means of collective survival against white supremacist patriarchal capitalist regimes.”
All in all, she summed up her feelings by saying, “I am beyond humbled by this award and feel honored to be recognized by Queer|Art.”