ArtFilm / TVSummer of Blacker Love
tourmaline brings black trans history to nyc’s high line
June 5, 2019
Whispers of a 19th century free Black community that once existed where New York’s Central Park now sits, seem to fade in and out of 21st century historical consciousness, as do the histories of Black transgender folk. No more! Activist, writer and filmmaker, Tourmaline, marries the two subjects in a singular tale in her latest film, Salacia. Screening every day, starting at dusk, outdoors on New York City’s High Line elevated park (at 14th Street), the short art film runs on a loop, and is the first video piece to be commissioned by High Line Originals.
The village in question, Seneca, was destroyed in 1855 so that Central Park could be built. And Tourmaline does not simply unearth a historical setting; she complicates the political implications of place-making by inserting Mary Jones (born 1803), a Black transgender New Yorker, as the Black fantasy-folktale film’s protagonist. The video moves between narrative and non-narrative storytelling, using a split screen view and subtitles as devices that give texture and layers to Mary’s journey toward self-actualization.
The presentation materials eloquently describe Tourmaline’s mission as,“Tending to the histories and haunts of disabled, poor, Black, queer, and trans life that echo and vibrate beneath neighborhoods and cultural landmarks…” To that end she has created a series of films that highlight the transformative power of Black queer and trans people, including portraits of the activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (Happy Birthday Marsha, co-directed with Sasha Wortzel, 2018), Miss Major (The Personal Things, 2016), and Egyptt LaBeija (Atlantic is a Sea of Bones, 2017). Tourmaline’s work as a filmmaker is deeply embedded in larger conversations about trans representation in the culture-at-large. Also known as Reina Gossett, she tackled trans visibility in a rigorous investigation of contemporary culture as co-editor of the 2017 book, Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility. The work is part of the Critical Anthologies in Art and Culture series published by MIT Press.
Engaged on its own without any knowledge of its context, Salacia offers an engagingly poetic montage of imagery, sound, voices and metaphor. However, with a bit of backstory, it will most likely inspire a further awakening to the vastness of untold narratives embedded within the sediment of New York City, and, in particular, Black, trans and queer histories.
Salacia is on view through July 3rd, 2019. A celebration of the film that includes a conversation featuring the artist will be held on June 27, 2019 at 7pm on the High Line at 14th Street. Further details will be announced at thehighline.org/art.
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