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Last Address Tribute Walk: Harlem

Oral History Participant Bios

Antionettea Etienne

Antionettea Dreadie” Etienne has been in the fight against HIV/AIDS for over twenty years. She is currently a health educator for several programs at Iris House, Inc. Dreadie has represented her various communities (lesbian, incarcerated, faith-based, and Afro-Caribe-Latinx women community), and has been a chair/co-chair, board member, member, and advocate for Rikers Island Advisory Board, Rikers Island Consortium, New York State and New York City Prevention Planning Group. She was the chair for the New York City Prevention Planning Council and the chair for former inmates with AIDS at Latino Commission on AIDS. Her church affiliations are Unity Fellowship Church of Christ movement, Love Alive International, Convent Avenue Baptist Church, New Testament Church, and Metropolitan Baptist Church. Dreadie assisted in the development and implantation of HIV/AIDS and Prison Ministries.

 

Luna Luis Ortiz

Luna Luis Ortiz was born in New York City 1972. In 1986, he contracted HIV at the age of fourteen. In the late 1980s, Ortiz was a part of the New York ballroom voguing scene; it was here where his creativity for the arts flourished. In 1988, he started as an HIV awareness spokesperson for youth living with HIV at the Hetrick-Martin Institute where he attended the Harvey Milk School. He has appeared on MTV, VH1, PBS, Telemundo, NY1, MSNBC, ABC, Time Out with Magic Johnson, Arsenio Hall, and Living in the Age of AIDS with Peter Jennings.

His public speaking engagements include New York University, Cornell University, Penn State University, Yale University, Jersey City Museum, the Whitney Museum for American Art, the Queens Museum, Museum of the City of New York, and the American Folk Art Museum.

He has shown his work at the Boston Center of the Arts, the Whitney Museum for American Art, The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the New Museum, Eternal Gallery in Paris, France, the LGBT Center/Bureau of General Services Queer Division, and the Annual Global Pride Art Exhibition at Clifford Chance.

In 2007, Ortiz worked on the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ GLAAD award-winning I Love My Boo campaign, as well as youth workshops, Kiki balls, conferences, and health fairs. He plans a committee of house and ball members for the annual Latex Ball. He is the father of the House of Khan, for which he guides and supports young people from the LGBTQIA+ experience with love, compassion, and care.

 

Pamela Sneed

Pamela Sneed is a New York-based poet, writer, performer, and visual artist, author of Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery, KONG and Other WorksSweet Dreams, two chaplets, Gift by Belladonna and Black Panther; Funeral Diva (City Lights, 2020), winner of the 2021 Lambda Lesbian Poetry Award; and the chapbook If the Capitol Rioters Had Been Black (F magazine and Motherbox Gallery, 2021). She has been featured in the New York Times MagazineNew Yorker, Hyperallergic, and on the cover of New York Magazine. She is online faculty in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) low-res MFA program teaching Human Rights and Writing Art and has been a visiting artist at SAIC in the program for five years. She also teaches new genres at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

She has performed at the Whitney Museum for American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, Poetry Project, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the High Line, the New Museum, MoMA, the Broad Museum the Toronto Biennale, and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art. She delivered the closing keynote for the Artists/Designers/Citizens Conference a North American component of the Venice Biennale at SAIC. She appeared in Nikki Giovanni’s The 100 Best African American Poems, and was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes in poetry.

She has published in the Brooklyn Rail, Artforum, Paris ReviewFrieze, Harper's Bazaar, and New York Times. In 2021, She was a finalist for New York Theater Workshop’s Golden Harris Award. In 2021, she was a panelist for David Zwirner’s More Life exhibit, and has spoken at Bard Center for Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Gordon Parks Foundation, Columbia University, the New School, and NYU’s Center for Humanities.

 

Lee Soulja Simmons

Lee Soulja was born in New York City and raised in the Bronx. He discovered dancing was his passion at the age of nine when he won a dance contest on Wonderama. Lee has since traveled the world, dancing and performing at The Apollo Theatre and Lincoln Center. As a visual artist, he has been featured in Vogue Spain, and theNew York Times, as well the film Saturday Church (2017) and the TV shows Pose, Law & Order, and New Amsterdam. He is also a member of the house and ballroom community and is the founding father of the House of Soulja. For the last twelve years, Lee Soulja has organized the NYC Black Pride weekend and recently created a new organization called the NYC Center for Black Pride to showcase and celebrate the contributions and history of Black and Latinx LGBTQIA+ people.

 

Artist Participant Bios

 

Milton Garcia Ninja
Children of Harlem’s Playground, 2021
Bristol Paper, marker, fine line pen, colored pencil, origami paper, kitchen twine, glitter glue, glue sticks

This cartoon, entitled Children of Harlem's Playground, depicts the ballroom community with intergenerational love and unity: past, present, and future. The past is represented by the cartoon likenesses of the founders of the ballroom community—Pepper LaBeija, Paris Dupree, Dorian Corey, Avis Pendavis, Angie Xtravaganza, and my founding house mother, Willi Ninja. The present depicts the parents of ballroom participants with their children posed in front, representing the future of the ballroom. The work is a testament to the power and influence the ballroom community has as the progenitors of popular culture.

Milton Garcia Ninja (MGNinja) is a cartoonist, voguer, dancer, choreographer, and public speaker whose work portrays aspects of his life and the lives of those around him. A member of the legendary House of Ninja in NYC’s House/Ballroom scene, and deemed an icon within this creative community, Milton continues to inspire LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults with his takes on the beauty in life’s simplicity. In August 2002, Milton was diagnosed as HIV positive. His tenacity for living for each moment as if it was his last went abruptly in check when he discovered his spiritual destiny at the help of his deceased grandmother’s influence in his life. He has managed to survive through mental and emotional issues, including drug addiction, and has learned to love himself and his partner of seven years in good and bad times. Milton’s colorful, playful cartoon vignettes are what he calls “pictorial diaries.” MGNinja is committed to documenting his life experiences and moments some may take for granted, but which he never does. From subjects as simple as the color red and strawberries, to complex issues such as infidelity in relationships, MGNinja presents a unique, interpretive point of view.
 

Ruben Natal-San Miguel
Lenox Lounge, (1939–2012) 
288 Lenox Avenue, Harlem, New York.

Lenox Lounge was a long-standing bar in Harlem, New York. It was located in 288 Lenox Avenue between 124th and 125th. The bar was founded in 1939 by Ralph Greco and served as a venue for performances by many great jazz artists, including Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.

Entertainer Madonna filmed scenes for her “Secret” music video (1994) here and elsewhere in Harlem. This was also when the AIDS epidemic still caused catastrophic deaths and infections that wiped out a significant portion of the LBGTQIA+ community and artists. Madonna, an LBGTQIA+ icon, injected diversity and inclusiveness into the video by casting Harlem residents, including LBGTQIA+ ones. All this intrigued me, and after seeing it I went to the Lenox Lounge several times during those years (1995–2012).

My life changed on September 11 after coming out alive from the half buried 1 train station in the shadows of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. My earlier visits to Lenox Lounge influenced my decision to move to Harlem, an area with few high-rises. In a brownstone I felt grounded and safer. The street life back then was still rich, but there were signs of aggressive gentrification. I was compelled to pick up a camera and start photographing my immediate surroundings and New York City in its entirety.

I always loved getting out of the subway at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue. The stunning, glittery Art Deco facade of the Lenox Lounge was the first thing that welcomed me. You could hear the jazz music walking by, or when someone walked in or out, spreading the amazing sound onto the street. I photographed its facade over and over. As a trained architect, I knew its value and historic importance. I also knew the storefronts and businesses were being eradicated by ongoing gentrification and that it was important to preserve them in photographic documentation. They were part of the essential fabric that defines this city. 

When the Lenox Lounge closed, I was devastated; it felt like losing a dear friend or lover. I always smile when I see the photo of the Lounge when passing by it in my hallway, the same way years before I passed by the actual structure. Love for friends never dies. It is everlasting.  

Ruben Natal-San Miguel is an architect, photographer, curator, creative director, and critic. Natal-San Miguel’s work has been exhibited at Asya Geisberg (2010), SoHo Photo (2015), Rush Arts (2016), Finch & Ada (2011), Kris Graves Projects (2010), Fuchs Projects (2014), Whitebox Gallery (2017), Station Independent Projects Gallery (2016), LMAK Gallery (2019), Postmasters Gallery (2019, 2020); El Museo del Barrio, New York (2017); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2020); The Museum of the City of New York, New York (2020); Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, MA (2021); Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, New York (2021); Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC (2020, 2021); The Musée de la Civilization, Quebec (2021); Aperture Foundation, New York (2015); and most recently, an Art & Design Lightbox commissioned project for the Metropolitan Transit Authority New York City Subway at Barclay’s Center.

He has exhibited in numerous international art fairs and his photography has been published in New York Magazine, New York Times, Artforum, VICE, Musée, ARTnet, New Yorker, PBS, and NPR, and more. In 2016, Ruben’s Marcy’s Playground was selected for both the Billboard Collective and Apple’s website.

His photographs are held in several permanent collections, including The Studio Museum in Harlem, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Provincetown Museum of Art, and the NY Transit Museum.

 

Felicita Felli Maynard
Bidding Georgia, 2021
Ambrotype and text

Bidding Georgia (2021) is a photograph in the series Ole Dandy, The Tribute, (2018–), which follows the lives of early twentieth-century drag kings Jean Loren Feliz and Angelo Lwazi Owenzayo. The work employs wet plate photography to reimagine aspects of the past. This choice of method and process creates a revised and inclusive archive that honors the way the experiences of queer and gender-expansive people throughout the African diaspora disrupt the notion of linear time.

Merging correspondence and photography, Bidding Georgia documents the budding relationship between protagonists Jean Loren Feliz and Georgia Mae Moody. The two first met at A'leila Walker's Dark Tower in the 1920s in Harlem. Feliz was working as a male impersonator who migrated from New Orleans to make it big on the stages of the North. Moody was an aspiring writer who traveled up to the South from the Georgia Seas Islands, where she found work and community as a chorine and burlesque dancer.

During the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem was a place where Black people from the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States South, and Africa all migrated to in search of a better life. Despite the city's many hardships and causes for disillusionment, Harlem thrived as a rich cultural environment. The Ole Dandy, The Tribute is invested in producing evidence of the queer and gender-expansive identities and experiences that are often left out of the major canon of Harlem's history. Inspired and necessitated by the radical acts of refusal that historically made Black queer life possible in Harlem and beyond, this work uses imaginative dialogues between contemporary Black queer cultural workers to create portals between the past, present, and future.

Felicita Felli Maynard is a first-generation Afro-Latinx interdisciplinary artist and educator who works across traditional analog and alternative photography processes. They focus on challenging misrepresented histories of people from the African diaspora and critiquing the concept of time from within a Western context. Maynard is a New York Community Trust Van Lier Fellow (2018–19); BRIC Media Fellow (2018–19); Queer | Art Mentorship Fellow (2020); a Leslie-Lohman Museum Fellow (2020); and a Artist2Artist Fellow (2021). They have participated in residencies at Smack Mellon (2018–19); Nurture Arts (2018–19); and BRIC (2019–2020). They are currently an MFA in photography candidate at Tulane University and a Mellon Fellow in Community Engaged Scholarship (2023).