Our Light through Darkness
Our Light through Darkness
Artist and curator LaQuann Dawson talks his collab with Impulse Group NYC and the importance of Black queer art.
If “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” then last year was pitch black.
2020 certainly felt like a collaboration between the darkest forces on our planet: racism, poverty, disinformation, and disease. While the entire world was battling a pandemic, activists fought to bring another deep-seated crisis to the forefront: police brutality and racial injustice. In the thick of all of this, the nonprofit Impulse Group partnered with Creative Director LaQuann Dawson to create an initiative entitled “Our Light Through Darkness” in celebration of Black queer art and visibility.
We spoke to LaQuann about the project, his inspirations, quarantine, and how he’s finding the light in 2021.
HI! HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF?
Hello! My name is LaQuann Dawson. I am a photographer, filmmaker and a director from Ohio, now living in Brooklyn, NY. I am Black, I am Mexican, I am gay as f**k. Today, I am the creative director and curator of a beautiful anthology, Our Light Through Darkness in collaboration with Impulse Group NYC.
WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU RIGHT NOW?
Physically, I am currently in Oaxaca, Mexico, tucked far away from the winter and people stacked on top of each other. I have a lot of editing to do and I disenjoy being cold equally as much as I dislike wearing a lot of clothes.
WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?
I am on the beach drinking a margarita under the stars wearing the most breathable knit shorts I have ever owned and a necklace my kid sister gifted me. Mentally, I feel calm for the moment.
WHAT’S BEEN GETTING YOU THROUGH QUARANTINE?
Work and community have gotten me through this pandemic, really. At the very beginning of quarantine I couldn’t even be bothered because my head had been glued to Premiere Pro and Capture One working on documentaries, music videos, and photo edits. Time moves so quickly when I am creating. In the summer I was busy riding bikes and falling in love. Now, I am seeking peace and escape in a bigger, more difficult way. A way that is very much alone some days, but not too lonely. I’ve learned so much this past year about how and why and when I need space. Today, searching for those answers is what’s getting me through.
SO LET’S TALK OUR LIGHT THROUGH DARKNESS! CONGRATS ON THE PROJECT. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT IT.
Thank you so much! I am so proud and excited for this project to finally be released! Impulse Group NYC reached out to me in February of 2020 to shoot a digital campaign celebrating the lives of NYC’s queer community. Impulse Group NYC is a non-profit sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The group was formed to engage, support, and connect gay men throughout New York City and New Jersey. Due to COVID-19, this digital campaign turned into a coffee table book with the same goal. Impulse envisioned this happening across a few days in the studio where I’d photograph members of the community to fit a number of themes. I thought this sounded great, but something was off. We were missing an opportunity to truly celebrate the community and their stories. I didn’t want to walk into this door alone and I knew of many talented artists who could make this book something really special.
I was introduced to the anthologies Brother to Brother by Essex Hemphill and In the Life by Joseph Beam when I first moved to NYC. Since then, I’ve found so many collections of work from Black and queer artists. Digestible bodies of work that I could revisit often. Colorful, vast works that were diverse in content because of the many voices included. I wanted our book to do that too. I’m not an expert on the queer experience, only my own, so I proposed Impulse Group NYC allow me to curate the book and invite the community in a much larger way. They said yes. Our Light Through Darkness is the result of that.
WHAT WAS YOUR PROCESS LIKE IN DIRECTING THIS BOOK?
Whew! The creation of this book took so much work, time, effort, vision and collaboration. I worked on everything from the initial moodboards, research and reference materials, I read so many interviews. I sought out advice from folks who have done this before, built the list of artists, sent the outreach emails, submission forms, cover design, hoodie design, the placement of every image and piece of writing in the book, the website, the introduction, making sure everyone involved got paid on time and so so so much more. So many hands went into every moving part of this book; it could not have been possible without collaboration. When I’d become overwhelmed and start to fall off, someone on the team picked up that slack and adjusted our expectations for that task. If any of us had an idea, we all figured out how to make it work or make it better. We kept each other on task. We made sure every decision was made intentionally. We changed our minds through meeting after meeting. We pushed deadlines back. The contributors, the entire Impulse team, Erika Oliver who did all of the graphic design, Courtney Creative PR who handled our press, my friends back home and my mom...the list goes on.
Directing this book has reminded me once again of the power collaboration has and what we can accomplish when we do work together and allow our ideas and our voices to be heard and lifted.
THIS PAST YEAR HAS SEEN MORE VISIBILITY AROUND THE DISPROPORTIONATE DISCRIMINATION BLACK QUEER PEOPLE FACE, ESPECIALLY BLACK TRANS WOMEN—IN WHAT WAYS DOES THIS PROJECT CONTINUE THAT MOMENTUM?
A lack of visibility has for years and years threatened to make small of my community. I continue to realize that since we do not see ourselves in every space, some of us have a difficult time believing in our existence. It is an illusion though, we are not small. This project is on attempt at building a space specifically for us to see ourselves without having to squint. I want this book to look like a mirror to the people who take up its very pages. I hope Picasso Moore, Miss Mojo, Dey Armbrister, Teacoa Rushton and the rest of the artists who inspire me see themselves represented honestly and on their terms. I hope people at home find themselves in this book too. I’ve found an awareness of self to be powerful as f**k. If we can all wield that power it is frightening what is possible for us.
HOW CAN PEOPLE SUPPORT THE PROJECT?
You all can support this book by going to ourlightthroughdarkness.com and order a copy. Post photos when you get your box, and share it with your friends. The proceeds go to Destination Tomorrow and G.L.I.T.S Inc., two NYC-based nonprofits working to provide resources and safety to Black / Brown TLGBQIA+.
KEEPING WITH THE TITLE, HOW DO YOU FIND “LIGHT” THESE DAYS?
I am following the sun wherever it wants me to go. I’ve found that sunlight specifically brings me a joy that nothing else has been able to. Working on Our Light Through Darkness during a pandemic where we couldn’t convene in the same way as before was quite healing. I had a reason to talk to my people, to leave my house and to bounce ideas off of one another. I have two amazing roommates who affirm me daily and protect me—that feels like light. Getting online each day and seeing so much love, support and energy from Black queer people in a time where we’ve been asked to slow down has brought me light. In the past year I’ve found 18 different definitions of light and I am chasing them all.
YOU ALSO WORK WITH MOBI, DIRECT AT RISK MAGAZINE, AND CO-HOST THE HIM PODCAST, HOW DO YOU FIT IT ALL IN?
With heavy eyes, a perpetual pain in my shoulder and an ambitious spirit. The groups you listed are made up of people who keep me warm, celebrated, booked and held. There are many things I want to accomplish for both my community and for myself. All of those things require work and time management. Moving to New York to be gay as f**k and make art has not been exactly easy. I’ve sacrificed many nights of sleep, many meals and some relationships. I’ve had some really rough moments that I’d like to say I’ve learned from. I know that this work is important to me and as exhausting as it can be, it brings me joy and purpose too. I’ve got to keep going so I can continue to grow, to reach people and to build a career that feels safe and full.
HAVE YOU USED GRINDR?
LOL of course! My first kiss came from Grindr. I was outed in college via a screenshot of my torso on my Grindr profile.
WHAT’S YOUR PROFILE SAY?
My current profile says “photographer visiting - let’s work!” I came to Mexico to work in peace, solitude, curiosity and warmth just as much as I came here to relax.
WHAT’S YOUR MOST MEMORABLE GRINDR EXPERIENCE?
Toward the end of 2019, I had a conversation with a man on Grindr that turned into something very beautiful. Temporary, but beautiful still. Shamelessly, I am one of those guys on Grindr who will have a quick conversation and then disappear (aka ghost). I am someone who is big on protecting my emotional energy as well as my physical body and space. I don’t usually trust hookups or dates and sometimes I feel I might be wasting someone’s time or putting myself in danger, so I usually keep to myself. This man I was talking to had me grinning and laughing and blushing with every message. I was smiling so much into my phone that I felt like a damn 12 year old. I gave him my number: endless laughter and smiles still. I can be a pretty serious person so I love when someone can make me laugh.
Eventually I asked, “Ok so where are we going?”
We ended up at the movies (my favorite) to see Knives Out (highly recommend) and then had dinner and a drink. He was just as charming in person and so beautiful and smiling. I don’t know if at the time I realized it was a date because people don’t use the word “date” that much in my life, but it was one of the most pleasant first dates I’ve ever been on. I’ll never forget it.
WHAT ARE YOU “LOOKING” FOR?
I’m looking for safety, excitement and joy. I am looking for sunlight and laughter and places that are meant for me and my people. I am looking for freedom in every sense of the word. I want to build any of those things that cannot be found. I’m looking for people to build with.
HAVE A MESSAGE FOR GRINDR USERS?
Please be kind to one another, we are all looking for our people or person. Someone to make us smile, shout, cum, home. I know this seeking often feels so urgent and necessary. It is, but let’s allow each other grace, love and kindness in our search. Grindr has brought myself and many others some beautiful moments, but I have also witnessed violence in the name of “preference.”
I challenge us all to understand the root of our preferences, to learn who taught us what and who to like or respect. I challenge us to see what it looks like to unlearn preference, to remove hate from our bios and to be open to love.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO POST-QUARA?
The movies and the summer time. I love the summer and I love going to the movies and walking home at night. Once theaters open back up, I’m reserving a week's worth of movie tickets. I will watch literally anything.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO PLUG?
Y’all please scroll to the bottom of ourlightthroughdarkness.com and support the artists who made this book so special. In addition to buying the book, buy their prints and hoodies, hire them for projects, give them a follow and share their work. We bust our asses on this work and it deserves its day in the sun.
Thank you to Impulse for offering us this space and for allowing us to build it with you. This work is more important than you even know. Thank you Grindr for having me, I am so grateful.