Existence. Affirmation. Refuge.

People of color rarely get to exist in mass media. Queer people of color are nearly invisible. During a time when the queer and trans community of color is under attack, it is important to recognize this community outside of tragedy. As visual artist Julio Salgado stresses, it is important to celebrate and talk about artists and activists while they’re still alive. Their existence is revolutionary and their narratives matter.

Artist Gabriel García Román is utilizing social media as a tool to celebrate and highlight queer and trans activists of color. As a response to the lack of representation in the art world and the media, Román created Queer Icons. Queer Icons is a carefully crafted juxtaposition between religion, sexuality, and gender. In this series, Román represents community activists, artists, and organizers as saints. Much like the photogravure process, Román didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t predict the success of his series. When asked about this he said, “I never imagined that my series would be as big as it’s gotten. The series grew traction once I posted the initial portraits on my social media feed and people became interested in either participating or learning more about the series. The more folks I worked on the bigger the audience became until it got noticed by online media giants like Huffington Post, Fusion, and NPR. The emotional response I get from people within the community as well as allies makes me feel like it’s become bigger than me. It’s emails and messages I get from folks who don’t live in major cities and have limited access to queer culture that give me the drive to continue with the project. They find comfort in seeing themselves represented in this way. These images have become affirmations for those folks.”

The comfort stems from the strength and vulnerability that iconized figures hold. Religion is often used to chastise and shame the LGBTQ+/QTPOC community but Román is challenging the dominant culture’s view on the relationship between the two. His work has contributed to an important and difficult dialogue. This dialogue has shown that popular thought has begun to shift. Religion and sexuality don’t have to exist independently of one another. Román’s Queer Icons has allowed folks to take refuge in images that at times may have been used to exclude them. Now, they’re getting the opportunity to see themselves in a divine and honest representation. Their existence is being embraced by queer Catholic organizations and Román even had the honor of being included in a major exhibit at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  

Besides being a celebration of queer and trans activists, Román is also celebrating brown queer love as a revolutionary act. His print “Carlos & Fernando” highlights Carlos and Fernando’s love and commitment to each other. “I’ve known Carlos and Fernando for over a decade, almost as long as they’ve been together. The love and dedication they have for each other has always impressed me. I photographed them at a time when I was focusing on activists/community organizers and although they are neither per say, I do think queer brown love is revolutionary. Their mere existence and image is breaking down the heteronormative narrative of what a couple looks like. I wanted to include a successful POC queer couple in my series as an affirmation for younger folks, so they can see themselves reflected in Carlos and Fernando’s image.”

Gabriel García Román is a Mexican-American artist born in Zacatecas, México and raised in Chicago. Román is best known for his photographs and his ability to push the boundaries of materials by collaging, weaving, folding, cutting, and interlacing prints. His print “Carlos & Fernando” is on display at Self Help Graphics & Art and available for purchase. To view more of Román’s work visit gabrielgarciaroman.com.

Arleny Vargas is a Boyle Heights-bred resident who divides her time between Boston and Los Angeles. She’s currently an undergraduate at Wellesley College pursuing her degree in Spanish and Studio Art. Passionate about art and representation, she seeks to combine her writing and art in an effort to combat negative media representation and amplify the narratives and experiences of the Latinx community.