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Queer Ancestors Project
Bay Area, CA
The Queer Ancestors Project  is devoted to forging sturdy relationships between LGBTQI+ people and our ancestors. Using history as a linchpin, we build community by providing Queer and Trans artists, age 18 to 26, free interdisciplinary workshops in printmaking, writing, and Queer/Trans history.






Title: 白蛇 (baishe)

Artist: cairo mo

Medium: 8”x8” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: I created “白蛇 (baishe)” as a 1-colour linocut print in the style of an antique Chinese porcelain plate. To achieve the faded effect, I printed a ghost and sprayed the block with a cleaning solution.

“baishe” is a commemorative plate design of “The Legend of the White Snake (白蛇傳)”, one of China’s four great folktales.


In the original version, there once lived a female white snake spirit who lived in a lake. A young boy, Xu Xian, accidentally drops an immortality pill into the lake, which the snake eats. After years of practice, the snake controls the immortality pill’s power to transform into a beautiful woman. She falls in love and marries a human man, the same boy who had dropped the pill. But a monk, jealous of her immortality, reveals her to be a snake to her husband. He dies of shock. The snake spirit goes on a quest to revive her husband, who comes back to life and declares that he still loves her, snake and all.

I seek the seed of truth that lies buried in every legend. What was the Legend of the White Snake really saying? Each time a story is retold, the dominant cultural attitude shapes the narrative according to its own values. “baishe” serves as my own retelling.


The plate design pays respects to the white snake spirit, who I consider a trans ancestor. In my version of the folktale, the white snake spirit is a metaphor for transness. The snake has always been a woman; the immortality pill was simply a tool for her to control her own form. Her husband’s devotion to her shows that he sees her for who she is, her authentic self.



Title: butterfly lovers

Artist: cairo mo

Medium: 12”x12” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: “The Butterfly Lovers”* is one of China’s Four Great Folktales, pending recognition by UNESCO’s list of masterpieces of heritage. It is so well-regarded that it’s sometimes referred to as the Chinese Romeo and Juliet.


As the folktale was passed down through generations, each oral retelling infused it with a bit of the storyteller’s voice. But once folktales are written down, they stop evolving, remaining statically preserved. I’m picking up where they left off. It’s my turn to pass on the legend of The Butterfly Lovers, reviving its constant evolution and re-remembering my queer ancestors.


The heroes of the story are Liang Shanbo, a young scholar boy, and Zhu Yingtai, traditionally depicted as a girl who dresses up as a man so she can attend school. In my plate, butterfly lovers, Liang and Zhu are two boys sharing a peach** under a moon bridge, graced by a pair of butterflies.


It seems that previous generations did mental gymnastics to portray Zhu as a cisgender woman who goes through the hassle of 24/7 crossdressing for 3 years, for purely academic and intellectual purposes, and disguises herself so thoroughly that it’s impossible to convince people she is a cis woman. And then they misinterpreted Liang as a straight man who experienced zero attraction to his best friend until people suddenly started calling her a woman. This misunderstanding has persisted for a while and remains present in all mainstream productions of the story.


It’s much easier just to accept that Zhu is a trans boy, and that Liang fell in love with his male best friend. Occam’s Razor agrees.


--

*The legend tells us of Liang Shanbo, a young scholar, and Zhu Yingtai, the only “daughter” of her family. Zhu convinces her father to let her disguise herself as a man so she can attend school (where women aren’t allowed). Along her journey, she meets Liang. The two feel an instant attraction; their bond is so strong that they take an “oath of fraternity” on a bridge.


As they progress through school, Zhu and Liang fall deeper in love. Liang is oblivious to the fact that Zhu is not a cisgender man. One day, Zhu’s father commands her to return home, so she sadly departs, with Liang accompanying her to see her off.


On the road, Zhu repeatedly hints at her gender. She compares them to a pair of mandarin ducks, a cultural symbol of lovers. Liang doesn’t pick up the hints.


Finally, Zhu has had enough. She figures she’ll just set Liang up with “her sister.” Liang falls for it.


Months later, on the promised day of their marriage, Liang pays a visit and finally sees what Zhu had tried to tell him. Liang is ecstatic, they fall in passionate love, and vow to marry each other.


Unfortunately, Zhu was arranged by her family to marry another guy. The news reaches Liang and he literally dies of heartbreak.


On the day of Zhu’s wedding, the procession passes Liang’s grave. Zhu slips away to pay her respects. In despair, she begs the ground to open up. With a great clap of thunder, the grave opens and Zhu throws herself in to join Liang forever.


Their spirits emerge as a pair of butterflies, and fly away together.

--

** To share a peach: Chinese derogation for homosexuality that originated from a tale of an emperor accepting a half-eaten peach from his male lover.



Title: an offering to my younger self

Artist: daney gomez espiritu

Medium: 6.5” x 5.5” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: since starting qap, i have been reflecting a lot on what queerness means to me and what ancestry i want to lean into when i am finding myself needing strength and grounding. unfortunately, yet another product of colonialism is how damn hard i've found it to find a queer/nonbinary filipinx ancestor that i feel could help guide me; someone who could have helped guide my younger self. lately though, i have found myself thinking: is my younger self not my own ancestor? could it be possible that each past reflection of "me" is someone i can learn from and be guided by?


this print is an offering to my younger self. it reflects on queerness as an omen, but also as something that can be transformed into an offering.


here i offer a fortune teller. fortune tellers were one of my favorite games to play as a child; it was a way for me to be the bearer of my own omens. as a child and younger person, i sometimes felt that i wouldn't see the future predicted by the nimble movements of my fingers--yet here i am.


to my younger self, i also offer nasturtium; a plant that most people can find in abundance. the flowers and leaves are reminders of all my younger selves, who guide me into the future. to them, i offer an abundance of love, belonging, and trust.


queerness is not just a telling of the future, but an offering to ourselves and the world. if you could lay out an offering to your younger self, what would it be?


Title:  前途 (Future, prospects)

Artist: Indigo

Medium: 9”x 12” linocut on paper


Artist Statement:

The idea for this print sparked as I was making my last print. I was joking with another QAP member, saying "you've heard of ancestors in the past, but have you heard of a future ancestor?"

As I ruminated on the idea more, the joke became a more real concept for me. As a young trans person growing up in an abusive household, dealing with intergenerational trauma and my own mental health I never thought about my future past the next couple of months ahead. In fact, I feared my future as I saw headlines about trans people experiencing violence and early deaths.

The privilege of being able to leave my family home, and grow into my person, and now being a part of spaces like QAP, has slowly started to effect the way I see myself and helped me to WANT to envision and make plans for the future. I look forward to being a trans elder with greys and wrinkles.

This print became a great exercise in seeing myself in the future as a confident and empowered person. I depicted myself with owl wings to symbolize my connection to owls that started about a year ago. My Nai-nai has always told me she was a bird in a past life, and I often wake up in the middle of the night to hear owls hooting, and even when I moved back to the Bay Area after college, the owls seemed to follow. I hope this piece can encourage others to envision themselves in the future and to allow themselves to think of it in a more positive, loving, nurturing way. I am past ancestor, present ancestor, and now FUTURE ANCESTOR.


Title: 下午茶时间 (“Tea-Time”)

Artist: Indigo

Medium: 10”x8” linocut on paper

Artist Statement:

Dear Indigo,

This print is my love letter to you. Throughout Queer Ancestors Project we have talked about our younger selves being our ancestors. In creating this print, I originally was inspired by memories of getting Chinese breakfast and after eating, washing my hands in the tea. It is a memory of a ritual that I have come back to over the years. I never knew why we washed our hands in tea. I’ve learned now that tea holds anti-bacterial properties and is commonly used to cleanse dishes before eating.

As I carved my linograph, I struggled with what I wanted to say to you. I came to the conclusion that this print serves less as a message but more as an act of care. A mundane task of washing hands after a meal, that is also a sacred moment between my present self and you. This ritual has made me reflect on how much you have taught me, even from a young age. You hold ancestral power and divinity, thank you for passing that along to me.

Now I see how me living as a queer, trans person, is also a form of care: I am finally living congruently with how I have always felt.


我 爱 你。


-花 庆 容

cement


Title: November 28, 1998

Artist: Jasmine Pomar

Medium: 8”x10” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: Rita Hester is often remembered as the loss that inspired the first Trans Day of Remembrance. Her name is mentioned as a precursor to the story of her death. This work attempts to remember her for her life, drawing on the presence she has in those of her loved ones. As her sister remembered in an interview, “everybody knew Rita.”

Pulling imagery and ideas from photos of Rita’s life and the narratives of her family, this print draws allusions to Yemayá, a West African water deity who rules over femininity, motherhood, and protection or healing. Depicting jewelry Rita wore in her life – a silver tiara, looping strings of pearls – reminds us of the embodiment she invoked in her daily life: her glamour and aura call upon the image of Yemayá, a regal orisha who dons shells and jewelry derived from the sea. Flanking the image are chrysanthemums, a flower known to have represented long life and prosperity: a symbol I use to signify an attention to trans life, as opposed to death.

As orishas once lived on earth, deified after passing on, so too might we deify the trans leaders in our lives. As we embody the orishas through dress and accessory, even calling them down from the heavens to possess our bodies, so too does Rita live on in the way we choose to don her image, the way that we carry her with us. This print shows a spiritual depiction of what could be ceremonial tools, offering to the viewer a path of understanding those who have passed not as martyrs, but active participants in the development of our trans lives. I choose to ritually live for Rita Hester, instead of remembering her for her death. This print is an invitation to do the same.


Title: house of detention

Artist: Jason Mai

Medium: 10”x8” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: This is an everyday scene outside of the House of Detention, a women's prison that was located in the heart of New York's Greenwich Village from the 30's to 70's. It was situated in the middle of the city in a highly visible way that is counter to how prisons are sited today often in rural areas.


The majority of people caged there were Black and Brown women, trans and gender non-conforming folks— most of them criminalized for gathering at queer bars, engaging in sex work, or simply existing.


Because of its central location, lovers of incarcerated folks would come by and call to each other from the streets to the cells' windows. Eventually the prison was demolished because of noise complaints from neighbors and was replaced with a garden.


At first, it seemed like a happy resolution, but in reality a new prison was created on Rikers Island and prisoners were relocated there. This serves as a reminder and cautionary tale for abolitionists to resist against easy wins that only moves the problem out of sight from one community to another. Instead we must fight to remove prisons completely and free people anywhere and everywhere.


Title: Free Our Sisters!  Free Ourselves!

Artist: Jason Mai

Medium: 12”x9” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: "The year after Stonewall, protestors took to the streets in the first Gay Liberation March and intentionally ended at the New York Women's House of Detention. At that time, members of the Black Panther Party, including Joan Bird, Afeni Shakur, and Angela Davis, were locked up there. It was a commemoration of the riots against police brutality and a protest to free the Black Panthers, political prisoners, and everyone caged at the House of Detention. Both struggles were different, but ultimately one and the same because our oppressions are interconnected as those fighting for gay liberation and black liberation understood.  "Free Our Sisters! Free Ourselves!" reverberated through the air as prisoners and protestors called and responded to each other in succession. Some believe Sylvia Rivera started the chant, which later became a popular call to center women, both cis and trans, and gender non-conforming prisoners in our fights to end prison abolition and liberate all trans people of color.


This image reclaims Pride as we know it now as a corporatized and police-friendly parade and recenters it around its roots in Black liberation and prison industrial complex abolition. As trans people of color are disproportionately locked up and decarceration efforts leave those most vulnerable behind, this serves as a reminder to fight for our own even those who are locked up. This history of resistance and unity reminds us of what true solidarity and collective struggle could look like. As the chant says, our liberation is intertwined with each other — none of us are free until all of us are free."


Title: (The Goddess) for a Puja

Artist: Karishma

Medium: 6”x8” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: Often queerness in Hindu folklore is used to demonstrate a purpose: For instance, Chudala who became a man to enlighten her husband for overcoming patriarchy, Narada wanting to be a part of the raas-leela(dance) and changing gender as a metaphor for shedding ego, Krishna and Radha swapping clothes with the bold claim that ‘clothes do not make us who we are!’. These are all written in the lens avoiding the inherent queerness, and with the way they’ve been passed down, it’s reframed in the narrative of an allegory and instead gives the impression of the reader to assume this is most definitely the epitome of cisgenderhood. I come to rewrite and build ancestry; I want queerness simply for the sake of queerness.



This series is devoted to the goddess of my own creation. To permanently mark her into history, I will tell her story as folklore and write them into existence as fact. Her physical form is depicted with four arms (to signal divinity and her ability to perform multiple tasks at once). They also wear a nose ring on the left nostril which is culturally regarded as the “gay side”. She also wears a braid in their hair, a traditionally “feminine” portrayal, while also leaving most of it down to signal masculinity. Different parts of India portray them in different ways to their local culture (e.g. straight vs curlier hair for northern vs southern India). Most notable from her appearance are the numerous eyes covering her form.

For the at home worshipper, this art of the goddess is displayed in the puja at home. Often framed and propped up in sight of the devotee during their time of worship. It depicts the goddess in her later godhood, able to be determined by the presence of her third and fourth arms. She sculpts there herself out of desire to perform daily activities while also never having to end the embrace of her lover.


Title: (The Goddess) in Munthir

Artist: Karishma

Medium: 9”x12” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: Often queerness in Hindu folklore is used to demonstrate a purpose: For instance, Chudala who became a man to enlighten her husband for overcoming patriarchy, Narada wanting to be a part of the raas-leela(dance) and changing gender as a metaphor for shedding ego, Krishna and Radha swapping clothes with the bold claim that ‘clothes do not make us who we are!’. These are all written in the lens avoiding the inherent queerness, and with the way they’ve been passed down, it’s reframed in the narrative of an allegory and instead gives the impression of the reader to assume this is most definitely the epitome of cisgenderhood. I come to rewrite and build ancestry; I want queerness simply for the sake of queerness.



This series is devoted to the goddess of my own creation. To permanently mark her into history, I will tell her story as folklore and write them into existence as fact. Her physical form is depicted with four arms (to signal divinity and her ability to perform multiple tasks at once). They also wear a nose ring on the left nostril which is culturally regarded as the “gay side”. She also wears a braid in their hair, a traditionally “feminine” portrayal, while also leaving most of it down to signal masculinity. Different parts of India portray them in different ways to their local culture (e.g. straight vs curlier hair for northern vs southern India). Most notable from her appearance are the numerous eyes covering her form.


For the temples, we see the largest prints. Although rarely hung up, a few munthir still do include this goddess in a picture frame within the temple walls. She is not hung up in the overarching display, rather cast off to be removed from view more often than not.


Title: ripened love

Artist: Naseem

Medium: 6”x6” linocut on paper


Title: The Making of Zahhak

Artist: Naseem

Medium: 5”x7” linocut on paper

Artist Statement:  Zahhak-e-mardoosh (“Zahhak the snake-shoulder”) is a prominent evil figure in the Zoroastrian religion, Persian folklore, and Abdul Ghasem-e-Ferdowsi’s literary epic the Shahnameh (“book of kings”). The Shahnameh version of the narrative tells the tale of a handsome, charismatic, and clever king with Arab ancestry who transforms into a ruthless monster upon fraternizing with the spirit of all evil, Ahriman. In dreams, disguised as an advisor, and an attractive cook, Ahriman builds an intimate relationship with Zahhak. A tactic that Ahriman utilized to coax Zahhak into submission was cooking delicious meals. Eventually, in a moment of intimacy, Ahriman asks if he may kiss Zahhak’s shoulders and Zahhak allows. Immediately, two large snakes emerge from the king’s shoulders and Ahriman’s physical form disappears. From this point on, Zahhak’s life is contingent upon the snakes consuming two human brains every day—and so, Zahhak rounds up two people from his town on a daily basis in order to feed the snakes. Shall he forgo feeding the snakes, his own brain will become sustenance.

I interpret this story as a representation of the havoc that internalized homophobia/transphobia wreaks on people’s well-being. Deeply ingrained hatred of the self creates a void inside of a person and in order to fill that gap, unhealthy projections of anger, self-harm, and externalized violence become coping mechanisms. While Islam does not condemn queerness, the use of religion as a political tool to subdue people typically opposes expressions of gender and sexuality. In the same vain, extreme anti-queer sentiments have particularly strengthened in Iran after the Islamic Revolution in the 1980s—this has made way for internalized homo/transphobia (a sign of Ahriman) to fester within families, allowing for cycles of intergenerational trauma to continue.



Title: Untitled [The Witch]

Artist: Rawley

Medium: 5”x7” linocut on paper

Artist Statement:

‘Untitled [the witch]’.


The whispers danced across the wind like autumn leaves— “have you seen? Have you heard? There’s a new family in town.” She stands on the porch and listens, drinking in their rumors as they zip gracelessly by. “Yes, yes, a new family, and their servant is… odd.” Broom in hand, she sweeps, casting knowing glances to the raven perched above her— her familiar, her friend. A small smirk on her face, she delights in the towns’ retelling of tales that she’s heard dozens of times before. “— She’s been seen in the night—“ “gallivanting about—-“ “—mischievous and devious—“ They come to her in fragments, but they paint the same picture: one of intrigue, but mainly one of fear. Snuffing out the lamp, she retreats to her quarters, thinking to herself “and so it begins.”


Title: Untitled 2

Artist: Rawley

Medium: 12”x14.5” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: During our workshop one week, our instructor Katie mentioned something about our work and our stories weaving together a collective tapestry, and I was so inspired by that idea that this print was born! The work of queer people and queer artists that existed before me, with me and that will exist after me is something so magical and inspires me so much, and I’ve been able to access that inspiration so much while being a part of QAP. This piece for me was a meditation on all of our stories coming together, each existing as a stitch on our collective existence.


Title: Hi’iaka and Wahine’ōma’o

Artist: Ray Tsukayama

Medium: 9”x12” linocut on paper

Artist Statement: “What I have learned from this moolelo is if it does not transform us, it is not aloha. Further, if it is not marked on the aina, it is not aloha, or at least, it is not the aloha our kupuna were raised with, cultivated, and carefully passed down in our moolelo to us” -Jamaica Osorio


Aloha supersedes our bodies. It does not originate from our bodies and does not end with our deaths.


When the two lovers first meet, Hi'iaka learns that her sweetheart is known for gathering lehua from a grove in Keaau and therefore is called Hopoe by only her closest friends. Once the two agree to be aikane to each other, Hi'iaka solidifies their bond by uplifting and formalizing her name as Hopoe, effectively binding Hopoe’s life force to the lehua grove she cares for. Later, when this lehua grove is flooded by Pele’s lava, it leads to her bodily demise. However, Hopoe is reincarnated when years later shoots of the very same lehua trees crack through the hardened lava crust. Now Hi'iaka and Hopoe spend their days together satisfied. They feed each other with pleasure, as manu wahine, in bird and human form, mūkīkī between lehua blossoms.


Title: Untitled

Artist: Ray Tsukayama

Medium: linocut on paper

Artist Statement: This print is part of a series exploring the dynamic intimacies of Hawaiian ancestor Hi'iakaikapoliopele.



This print overlays two stories of aikāne pilina, or "same sex" bonds, and the profound commitment they can embody.



The first is of Hi'iaka and Wahine'ōma'o, ancestors of historical and legendary accounts. The story goes that Hi'iakaʻs eldest sister sent her on a long journey across the Hawaiian islands. The first event of her journey is that she meets a local woman named Wahine'ōma'o. The two decide to become aikāne (intimate partners) to each other. To solidify their bond, the two interlock their fingers and Wahine'ōma'o declares, "Wherever you go, there too shall I". This begins their epic relationship in which Wahine'ōma'o accompanies Hi'iaka through a treacherous journey marching through rivers of blood, challenging pompous chiefs, jumping from cliffs, and facing malicious and giant lizards, sharks, and eels. Where other companions on this journey were temporary, Wahine'ōma'o was steadfast, seeing Hi'iaka all the way through the journeyʻs completion. Together this duo faced many herculean feats, holding each other as a tether through it all.



Depicting these fierce ancestors are present-day Kanaka Maoli activists and sweethearts Jamaica and Malia Osorio. In 2019 the two met while chained to a cattle grate for 12 hours in protest of the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. Jamaica Osorio wrote that this momentous day in the decade-long TMT protest was "also a day shared between two strangers who promised to keep each other warm and safe - no matter the threat that came our way. On that day [...] we made a commitment beyond our own comprehension. To our 'āina, our people, but most of all -- to each other." The two protectors are now engaged and patiently await their coming child.


Title: “Therefore I Am”

Artist: Sasha

Medium: linocut on paper

Artist Statement: In this print, I honored ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), Dykes on Bikes, and non-assimilationist lesbianism.


The text “I AM OUT THEREFORE I AM” references Adam Galston’s image of the same name from 1989, which was used on ACT UP’s shirts for a demonstration on the 20th anniversary of Stonewall. Galston directly took his image from Barbara Kruger’s piece I shop therefore I am, 1987, and changed the text to create an empowering declaration of sexual identity.



I also referenced a photograph taken by Saul Broomberg and Sandra Hoover of two Dykes on Bikes participants in a San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Parade somewhere between 1984-1990. When planning the piece, I knew I wanted the distinct motif of leather. I came across the photograph and loved the momentary intimacy between the two lovers.


My intention was to create an image that was both bold and sweet, while softly combining radical Gay and Lesbian groups from San Francisco to New York City.


Title: 16th Street Bliss

Artist: Sasha

Medium: linocut on paper

Artist Statement: 16th St Bliss

I created three prints dedicated to 16th St’s queer and trans history, more specifically to the bar Esta Noche, but also to the other lost LGBTQ+ Latinx bars on 16th. The images are based on stills from Tina Valentin Aguirre and Auggie Robles’s film, ¡Viva 16!. I am so thankful for Tina for creating this film as well as presenting it to us at Queer Ancestors Project.

¡Viva 16! focuses on Esta Noche, a place for queer and trans Latinx people to congregate and celebrate. It was the first Latino gay bar in San Francisco, active from 1979-2014, and closed because of gentrification.

Using quick lines and a comic-paneled structure, I hoped to capture the movement and joy of the atmosphere. It was important for me to emulate the strobe lights and dancing, as an ode to the era.

Throughout my project, I learned more and more about the seemingly endless losses that the LGBTQ+ community in San Francisco faced (and continues to face). It makes me terribly sad that I have repeatedly passed by buildings that were essential to my community, and did not know the significance. I am compelled to honor these spaces, and invite the viewer to honor them too.