Artist: Michael Travis
The central unifying theme in my design is air. I’ve always been fascinated by the elements as motifs in movies and mythology. I associate air specifically with two main parts of my identity: my Northwestern-ness and my blackness. I think Washington skies are so beautiful. Many see them as dreary and dismal, but I simply find the image of a cluster of clouds, even voluminous, gray ones, to be so evocative of life and eternity. The sky, the weather and air are also intrinsic to the black American experience in many ways. There are many black characters, like X-Men’s Ororo “Storm” Munroe, whom have lightning powers; soul, a musical genre meant to evoke spirituality and a connection to a higher plane of existence, has been invented and codified by black artists; stereotypes of black people often involve us exuding screams of joy and rage (which is, to be fair, not entirely untrue); there an insidious history of black people’s air being stolen from them through suffocation; Billie Holiday memorably mentions dead black bodies swaying in the breeze.
From these things I’ve observed, I wanted to depict a black figure with a large afro, the universal style symbol of African descendants. The curls of the afro give the impression of clouds in a sunless sky, although I wish to contextualize this as something glorious and not a sign of the end times. I achieve this by coloring the clouds in the hues of our various pride flags. My concept of the image is inspired by one of my favorite queer archetypes. I feel that, when lockdown began to really eat at people, many queer people fantasized themselves as the tragically fabulous dame in the vain of Little Edie or Baby Jane, slinking through the dark hall of their two bedroom-one toilet mansions. My design features a character created in the vein of Norma Desmond and other complex, wizened, glamorous, lonely femmes. Her face is a caricature of blaxploitation actress Brenda Sykes, aged up and androgenized as to appeal to the sensibility of a genderqueer person who living a long, eventful life.