Last year, MQBMBQ (My Queer Blackness, My Black Queerness) launched an open call for Black queer artists across the world in collaboration with Tuscan artist residency and hotel Villa Lena.
Now in its second year, Villa Lena’s partnership with MQBMBQ, which was founded by Milan-based writer Jordan Anderson, allows Black queer artists to explore new ideas during a four-week residency in the rolling Tuscan countryside (alright for some, eh). Out of hordes of applicants, three talented artists were picked and welcomed onto the 500-acre estate to work on new projects, thanks to the support of Italian luxury brand Loro Piana.
“The importance of this residency is rest, peace and quiet,” says Terrell Villiers, one of the chosen artists. “All of which are, believe it or not, extremely rare to carve out for yourself as a Black queer person.”
Villiers is a self-taught illustrator and community organiser from Brooklyn. Having drawn since the age of six, his vibrant cartoon illustrations are inspired by growing up visibly queer in a conservative Caribbean household.
“I was very loud, animated and flamboyant as a kid,” he says. “At some point, at a young age, I stopped trying to draw more attention to myself, out of the fear of shame. That’s when I started to create these imaginary friends which I would then draw as characters and create storylines and imaginary worlds that I would get sucked into.”
After being tapped by Black-queer Caribbean collective Masisi to design flyers for their parties in Miami, Villiers has since worked with Gucci and Afropunk, and been featured in the pages of Teen Vogue.
“I often say that my work is purely just fan art of my friends,” he tells us. “I draw my friends in almost all my pieces. They often bring that light and inspiration into my life that pushes me to create.”
LA-based Iman Person’s work is “centred around concepts of Black and Indigenous technologies,” she explains. Working with biological materials such as fruit and flowers, she also experiments with herbal medicines, writing poetry and learning about her family lineage as a way of exploring herself.
“I feel that much of existing in a Black body is an exercise in queerness or otherness, as a form of empowered otherness and a source of immense freedom,” she says. “Existing as a first-generation queer woman of Caribbean and African-American descent, I travel in what feels like numerous blended realities. My art becomes a channel for how these varied parts of myself and my ancestral knowledge can become a transformative force for Black and Brown queer voices.”
Melbourne/Narrm-based artist and film director Lilah Benetti first started making art in 2017. Easy Ghana was their first documentary photography series and short film. “It was received really well from people back home and I realised that my curiosity was shared by so many back in Melbourne – in particular young people of the African Diaspora who are also yearning to learn more about what it means to be African-Australian,” they explain.
“Colonisation in Australia dates back to just over 200 years ago and, as a Black person with a migrant background living on stolen land, much of the art I make comes from my understanding of belonging and connection – not to place, but to people,” they continue. “The current film I’m working on looks to explore this connection of the global Black diaspora, using orchestral sound and colour to guide my audience through the story.”
“My work is inherently Black and queer – because I am Black and queer,” they say.
For more info visit www.villa-lena.it.