Paris has burned


Growing up a queer person of color (QPOC) in the Midwestern United States, I never dreamed that it would be possible for someone like myself to go to Paris.  In fact, until last year I had never been out of the country.  At 28, the world seemed to open up in front of me.  Now 29, I am here.  I’ve arrived in “the most romantic city in the world.”  Well, as with many romances, it all seems to be built up in our heads as some distant possibility.  A possibility that we desire, but accept as an impossibility – which I believe is part of the attraction.

I recalled my obsession with the documentary film Paris Is Burning.  A documentation of the POC queer community in the late 80s.  Though in many ways the film has become a tokenizing artifact of the African American queer existence it still provided me with some hope as a POC queer coming from a sea of whiteness in much of my youth and young adulthood.  This film inspired me to think about what has been happening in the past months as France has passed marriage reform which includes non-traditional couples in the institution of marriage.

As a queer, Paris is romanticized as a place for queer culture in ways that are similar to New York City or San Francisco – an international gay mecca.  The reality, as we are recognizing in the States as well, is that violence and hatred is re-penetrating our claims to space.  In Chelsea just a week or so before our trip, my roommate and her partner came across the crime scene where a young POC queer man had been gunned down simply for being gay in the wrong place and time where I often pass to ride the train home from Manhattan into Bedstuy.  This carried with me to Paris and on our first day in Argenteuil it was expressed that homosexual people were “not seen” or rather, invisible or intentionally blending in due to some perception of necessity in this space.

These happenings inspired me to think of how performing in public space requires a reading, interpretation, and expression that is impacted by the environmental factors of material, design, and psycho-social influences.  I conceived of a narrative that explored how a queer person might behave in a variety of geographies and urban contexts – on the Esplanade, the train, and in front of Hotel des Invalides (the converging epicenter of the protests against same sex marriage on May 26th).  I hope that my work will be accepted in solidarity with those who have been fighting for equity in the recognition of love and family as determined by each and every individuals’ own experience and capabilities here in France.

For now I have uploaded some raw footage to youtube that can be used for comparison of my embodied identity and translation of the same song in two different geographies.  Later, the project will fill in the story between these two places…

– Rashid Owoyele

Raw footage from Invalides

Raw footage from Argenteuil

Queer Paris: day four

The forth day of our workshop, Rashid Owoyele led the workshop, using a dry-erase board he had design in the Transdisciplinary program, focusing more one the community’s vision of itself for the future. He writes:

“The prototype is a dry-erase board that seeks to distribute agency in the production of the artifacts generated in conversation around a dry-erase board during the design process or discussion.  For this context I asked participants to think about two timeframes.  The first exercise was intended to be generative of ideas about Argenteuil’s image in the past.  The second exercise asked participants to reflect on their dream for the perceptions of Argenteuil in the future.  Each participant generated 6 words and an image in each exercise.  These were then discussed and determined to either be a single persons perspective or one shared by multiple people.

My hope was that this would start a conversation in which we would develop better understandings of the group’s collective imaginary about their own urban context.  Everyone seemed engaged – despite the length of time the exercise took.  There was a also young person who drew their own ideal space for the future which included a skate park!  This demonstrated to me that this way of facilitating discussions about the individual imaginary could develop an expressed understanding of the shared view of places and spaces.

After the workshop we went out to shoot for my video project.  It was amazing how engaged and inspired the participants became.  Though I had envisioned this part of my work in France would be primarily performed separate and in solitude from the persons we had been working with at the cultural center, it became apparent that performing in a public space can not be done in private.  It was very inspiring to see the hidden talents of folks whom we had been interacting with as they danced after or with me.  Children from around Argenteuil that were passing by or visiting parents became performers in that moment.  One young woman danced and then sang a full pop song in English.  It’s interesting just how much time it takes to actually get to know someone – then you add language as a barrier and that time-to-understanding elongates dramatically.  I realize now that after those first to days, my comfort was assumptive – as designers we need to remain aware that there is always something lurking under the surface that is invisible to us that could provide the most insightful opportunity or experience that we need for our work. This is one moment of queering public space that I will not soon forget.”