Juliana Huxtable is an artistic powerhouse. Her texts and multimedia projects have been seen and heard at MoMA and The New Museum in New York. She has modeled for DKNY and Eckhaus Latta and is featured in this January’s issue of Vogue. She is the co-founder of the queer NYC party called #ShockvalueNYC and DJ’s around the country. Her poems can be heard in music and fashion shows alike and shows no signs of slowing down. It seems almost impossible to list all her accomplishments and happenings in one paragraph.
We at WUSSY, then, were so grateful to be able to ask the House of Ladosha member a few questions about her artmaking process, the South, her upcoming performance at Mammal Gallery this Saturday at ShartThrob (6)6(6):: Mixtuplet Sextape, and some inspiring words for new trans artists.
Get inspired by her wise and passionate words below.
A lot of your projects as a poet are multimedia and collaborative undertakings. There doesn’t seem to be a fear of your work crossing too many genres and takes new approaches to art- making that are refreshing and exciting. Do you see the definition of poetry perhaps changing from the traditional senses of spoken and written word into something else?
I sort of came into the role of ‘poet’ unintentionally and a bit apprehensively. I studied poetry in the more traditional literary sense – anything from romantic poetry to the l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e poets, but that was something that I approached as an academic, and although it affected how I thought about poetry, it didn’t speak to me in terms of inspiration or grounding for my own practice. My writing, like the rest of my work is ambiguous because the way that I live and create is ambiguous. The career tracks of ‘poet’ or ‘artist’ don’t really make sense to someone like me who creates from and in conversation with the fringes of productive society. I think that poetry is seen as irrelevant or esoteric and so many people who are in fact writing something approximating poetry would never understand their work in that context. I guess what I do exists somewhere in between and is a reflection of the polymath nature of artistic production generally. Most of my peers do many things at once. Partially maybe out of economic necessity but also because that is the age that we live in – it’s a reflection of the excess of how-to knowledge regarding production, technique, etc.
Poets tweet, poets rap, poets graffiti. In this world where everything is moving faster, attention spans are getting shorter, and poets are doing what they need to adapt and be heard, what is the role of poetry in today’s society? Why bother to write?
I really like what Eileen Myles recently said of poetry:
“It’s like the un-Trump: The poet is the charismatic loser. You’re the fool in Shakespeare; you’re the loose cannon. As things get worse, poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary.”
Poetry, even more than art making, has been something that I’ve always felt was necessary, but after college felt increasingly distant, inaccessible, irrelevant. I’ve come back to the text, and poetic text as an essential part of my work because it feels necessary. It asks necessarily unanswerable questions, creates linguistic catastrophes and does so in a way that can be particularly illuminating of the conditions we live under. Things are really really bad right now – bad for women, for trans folk, for artists trying to support themselves and by virtue of that pursuit are marginal – and text – taking language, the way that it currently seems so malleable but is rarely presented in a way that utilizes and plays in its flexibility, has become a way for me to create events that speak to other possibilities without losing them in ‘realistic’ or ‘pragmatic’ demands. Maybe what I write is actually terrible! but it feels necessary nonetheless. And I hope that I can do so in a way that speaks beyond the worlds of ‘poetry’ proper.
You are an incredible DJ and one of the dopest nightlife figures in the country. How does the nightlife club scene influence the other areas of your work? Has the club life and art life always merged pretty fluidly for you?
Thank you!! I think the beauty of nightlife is that it happens when and how it happens, and all we really have after is the documentation and the legacy that exists in how people engage and celebrate the communities that nightlife engenders. I would not be anywhere were it not for nightlife, both fictional and real. Growing up, the club is a central space of release for southern black people. It exists in so many songs, and has so much language belonging to it uniquely. The club was a space of possibility, imagining, community and a sort of Dionysian celebration that the harsh racial reality of the south would all but suggest is impossible. I left TX for new york b/c I wanted to find my club, my space of ecstatic and liminal existence. Nightlife was and still is a primary site for how I experiment firstly with my own self posturing and identity and beyond that a way of seeing how the aesthetic inclinations, dialects, etc of the (sub?)cultures around me function. It's so easy to get sucked into NY exclusively b/c there's always this archive of nightlife that directly influences the nightlife that’s being created. Being a DJ has been amazing b/c I get to see how there is a inter-continental dialogue and cultural exchange happening. Musical styles are exchanged – there's a whole sort of pan-POC hip hop culture happening in the bay area and the ways that female bravado and language that in other areas would be exclusively black is really beautiful. Philly has a really amazing queer women led club music (using philly club proper as a launching point) scene that’s really amazing – the energy there in particular has greatly inspired me. The way that ballroom culture has emerged as an eastern-seaboard wide community has brought so many amazing vogue producers from places like Atlanta and at the same time, you have original plumbing publishing an entire issue dedicated to trans male culture in the south, largely centered around Atlanta. I’m always thinking of and influenced by these things and they invariably influence my musical and artistic practices.
You were born and raised in Bryan-College Station, Texas. How has your upbringing in South Central America influenced you as an artist and human being? How has New York?
I think the south is a magical place. My family is largely from Alabama and I was raised in TX so I have really strong sense of ethnic ties to southern culture and southern black culture, southern Baptist culture. I think it provides in a lot of ways an ethical framework but musically it really gives me a set of rhythms, harmonies, and ideas of what dance music can do that really has influenced how I read and mix music. Coming to NY, I was thrown into largely house, club and vogue music. I felt a need to really make music that spoke to what I felt, which often times was tied to the south. The way I dance, how certain beats make me move … It so tied to things like Swisha house, Amanda Perez and The Mississippi Mass Choir.
A lot of writers find it difficult to find ways to or be confident enough to discuss their identity, whether it be race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. What advice would you give these writers struggling to develop creative language in this way?
Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid of nuance. We’re in a moment where identity is being championed and explored in ways perhaps unseen since the mid 1990s. With that comes the self policing of one’s own work. I am an advocate of artistic and creative de-limitation. Even as intentional way of editing one’s work. The beauty of identity is its fluid, multi-faceted and intersectional nature and I think the more we approach the complexities the better and more dynamic the writing
Who are some artists in any genre that you’re obsessed with right now?
Donna Huanca, Elysia Crampton, Andrea Crespo, Andrew Durbin,
Bernie or Hilary?
What can we expect for your Feb 13th set at Mammal Gallery? Have you ever been to Atlanta?
I have been to Atlanta, with my family and as a college debater. This is the first time I’m coming as an independent doll. As for what to expect, it’d be boring if I gave that away!
Any words for the young budding trans artists out there?
HAVE NO FEAR. THEY WISH THEY COULD DO WHAT YOU DO.
For more information on Shartthrob (6)6(6): Mixtuplet Sextape feat. Juliana Huxtable, click HERE.
Nicholas Goodly is a graduate poetry student at Columbia University. He is the current art editor of Columbia Journal Online and writing editor of WUSSY MAG.