For the young LGBTQ New Yorkers in the habit of hunting down Papi Juice's carefree, diverse parties on Instagram and dancing the night away, it's easy to lose sight of how those nights relate to the broader history of queer activism in New York. But this Pride season, the Brooklyn Museum is pointing out that the Papi Juice collective, along with the other artists creating inclusive nightlife scenes, are carrying on the legacy of the Stonewall Riots in the exhibit, "Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall."
The Papi Juice collective formed in 2013 to create more social space for queer and trans people of color. The group went from throwing occasional smaller-scale parties to regular monthly bashes with hundreds of attendees and performances by artists like Princess Nokia and BbyMutha. (This Pride season, they're following up an early June takeover of the Brooklyn Museum with a second "World Pride" party in New York, hosted by celebrities like Pose actress Indya Moore.)
"This exhibit is incredible because so often nightlife isn't considered legitimate [for social change]," artist Mohammed Fayaz of the Papi Juice collective said. "It's really motivating to understand that nightlife is a place that queer folks have congregated for over a century now. Our collective's work is more intentional than just a party. Our mission is to affirm and celebrate the lives of queer and trans people of color who exist all 24 hours of the day, not just 10 p.m. to 5 a.m."
Fayaz' flyers, which are prominently featured in the exhibit, have been a crucial part of communicating the group's vision for the city's queer social scene. The digitized cartoon party scenes quietly advertise a warm, free-flowing social revolution. They feature queer men and women of color who don't look like macho or effeminate stereotypes, femmes in hijabs, and folks of all body types looking fly as ever. Now, he uses his signature playful, expressive style to help other friends advertise their projects and promote Pride messages with public art initiatives in addition to Papi Juice, where his animations decorate parties in order to curate "a visual world," as Fayaz puts it. Fayaz says going to art school was never in his family's vision for his future, so he didn't see himself becoming a professional artist. But he was inspired to hone his own style for depicting his community after reading about artist Kerry James Marshall's desire to create a new canon separate from centuries of art depicting white people. "The older I get and more spiritual I get, my art feels bigger than myself," Fayaz said. "I feel almost like a vessel for my community."
The Papi Juice collective's appearance in the exhibit gives weight to the everyday routines, celebrations, or acts of resistance LGBTQ people engage in. They may be manifesting as a mosh pit at a Papi Juice concert, or graffiti artist Hugo Gyrl vandalizing a corner with an important queer feminist message, but they're carrying the same rioting spirit that Stonewall protesters shook the city with––and they inspire later generations to do the same.
"I'm so excited about the prospect of any young person coming to the museum, discovering my work, and then hopefully coming through our events—or, if they're visiting New York with their families, maybe going back to Idaho and starting a queer party there," Fayaz says. "I think it's all about momentum, whether it's us being pushed forward by what happened in the past or us pushing the next wave forward just by creating this content. I think it's really powerful and it feels bigger than all of us."
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