Mx. Je’ Jae Cleopatra: If They Don’t Let You Into the Gallery, You Perform in the Park.

Mx. Je’ Jae Cleopatra: If They Don’t Let You Into the Gallery, You Perform in the Park.

Why do you use ENBY?

ENBY brings me a lot of gender-affirming care and allows me to feel seen and heard when I’m feeling dysphoric, especially during the pandemic when trans rights are being dismantled, hate crimes are going up, and transphobia is running rampant, it is amazing to have a skincare product that is made for you, sees you, embraces you, and wants you to be fully you. Growing up AMAB [assigned female/male at birth], society says that skincare is only for cis-femme women and that’s such a lie. We all need to use moisturizer and sunblock, regardless of our gender identities. There is a stigma when it comes to self-care and if you’re anything but a cis-female that is putting on these products, you’re typically labeled as “queer,” which, is still seen as “bad” in the mainstream. Men who use skincare products are called “gay,” or told that they’re “high-maintenance,” when in reality, it’s just good healthy hygiene!

What was the journey like to get to where you are today? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

I remember being on a bus, I was 5 or 6 years old, and there was a kid from my neighborhood and we asked each other, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and I said, “I want to be an artist that’s remembered for ages.” I always felt it was in my blood. A lot of my artistry has been a means to self-document, to connect with neglected folks, to make sense of struggles in society, in my life, how I navigate the world. I feel like the only place I can turn to truly feel held, healed, understood, and humanized is my medium.

Part of that is giving room to others and amplifying their voices. For example, when you have people come to you on an individual level and say, “Wow, this is what I’m going through and you gave me a voice, and I feel heard and I feel seen,” those are the moments. I live to create. 

What is your medium?

I’m a mixed-medium, multi-disciplinary artist. I like to say that I’m a social practitioner who helps build narratives for people who are survivors. That is why I feel like I have been put on this Earth. As artists, we are rebels, we are organizers, we are visionaries, and we have to create worlds that aren’t there.

What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

 My ultimate dream is for people to come to me for my ideas, for people to pay me for my entrepreneurship skills, for me to be authentic, for my face, my words, my actions, my input to be seen as equally valid, whether it’s organizing, or it’s in a boardroom for a non-profit. Throughout my life, I’ve felt like my ideas have been taken advantage of. Artists deserve their credit, artists deserve to be valued.

What is the most difficult part of being an artist? 

It has been difficult to get recognition without putting myself into uncomfortable situations. I remember a woman said to me, “I’ll give you a residency if you’re willing to sleep with the owner,” and when I said I’m not comfortable with that, she said, “Well, that’s going to be your downfall.” There are so many people who take advantage of artists. People ask for my labor, don’t credit me, and don’t pay me. If we, as artists, are not sure of ourselves or don’t have a place of prestige yet, it’s so easy to be seen as disposable and to be used and abused. People don’t respect my time, my energy, or my ideas. Other times, it still feels like I am creating to the demands of the public. I feel pressured to cis-wash, white-wash, straight-wash my narrative like so many other minorities had to do to move up in the world and have a presence. The art world is controlled by the white, liberal elite, and if you don’t fit their agenda, you do not get a platform. Artists are not that free. We’re still censored by our own industries. I’m exhausted! 

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on?

A project I’m very interested in making is a three-step process:

  • People will cast onto me to create a papier-mache body cast
  • They’re going to write on the cast how they view and interact with my body or theirs
  • Taking off the cast and putting it on display

This project, titled “The Tittie Free Calendar,” will be performed at Kinetik Arts Gallery & Silvana’s. The workshop is a PHAT Affirming exercise for all folks to consciously connect with their inner flesh, peace, and strip away the idea that our figures need to change/fit a box to be genderful! I had a lot of expectations of what my body and gender should look like in my own transition. The world has all these toxic images of what a man needs to look like, or what a woman needs to look like and I didn’t really have an image of what a nonbinary person is supposed to look like. I feel like a lot of people can relate to body-shaming and body expectations. I found a number of different venues to host this project and a lot of them initially said “yes” and then said “no” and I’ve learned that if they don’t let you into the gallery, you perform in the park.

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