MIAMI — Together Nadege Green and Marie Vickles gave life to Give Them Their Flowers. This exhibition at the Little Haiti Cultural Center Art Gallery is the first of its kind. It pays homage to Miami’s Black queer history by merging historical research, archival imagery, artifacts, oral histories, video, and portraits of Black LGBTQ+ Miamians over the age of 45. The show presents works by Miami artists Vanessa Charlot, Kendrick Daye, Woosler Delisfort, Hued Songs, and Loni Johnson.
I sat down with Green, a writer and community historian, and founder of Black Miami Dade, and Vickles, director of education at the Pérez Art Museum and curator in residence at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, to discuss oral histories, the power of imagining, and why it’s urgent to tell Black queer narratives right now.
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The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Carolina Drake: How did this exhibit come together?
Nadege Green: I started this research about two years ago. One of my good friends, Corey Davis, who runs Maven Leadership Collective, asked me if I could do a post on Black queer history for the Black Miami Dade project. That was the impetus. When I started, there was a vacuum of silence around Black queer Miami history, and existing documents were absent too. But we knew that the history existed, that Black queer folks were always here. So that’s what kicked off this research. Going through archives and doing oral histories, and tracking down names. We still didn’t know it would be an exhibit. But as I got deeper into the research, I realized that to fill in these holes, we needed to do oral histories and talk to people, preferably over 45 years old.
These oral histories were able to fill in the holes where the historical records were silent because [the people] had lived Black queer Miami.
Marie Vickles: Nadege asked me to help her curate this project into an exhibition. We talked about this project for almost a year, and over that year a lot of things evolved. Working with the local photographers, Woosler Delisfort and Vanessa Charlot, was very special. Loni Johnson collaborated by making the memory space in the back. Then Nadege introduced me to Kendrick Daye, who created the collages.
NG: In the absence of a visual historical record of Black queerness, how do you correct that record when you engage with artists? You do that with imagination. So, Kendrick created these brilliant textured collages featuring queer celebrities such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Josephine Baker, and Phil Harris, who performed here. When I spoke to him, I said, “This is about imagining Miami as a Black queer space because it is a Black queer space.”
MV: The last artistic element that blends it together amazingly is a feature by Hued Songs with an excerpt from a commission performance they did at the Historic Hampton House. The space just came together so beautifully.
CD: I would love to hear more about the process of giving visibility to queer Black narratives, in Florida.
NG: I think given the political climate right now, there is an added urgency to make sure the historical record is clear around Black history, queer history, and intersectionality of being Black queer folks in a way that we knew needed to happen, but in a way that is also being attacked right now.
MV: That wasn’t the case when we started this project. It really was a totally different climate in many aspects, at least in Florida. The censorship had not picked up steam in the way we are seeing it now. It’s always been there simmering under the surface but to say, “Now we’re going to codify this into law,” it’s unbelievable. But that’s even more reason why an exhibition like this needs to happen. It’s history, right?
NG: And in 2023, this is the first time there is an exhibition of this kind in Miami on Black queer Miami history. Yes, there have been many public-facing works around Miami’s LGBTQ+ history, largely White. It’s about who gets to tell the stories, who gets funded to tell the stories, and who cares to tell fuller stories. There’s a way when we say LGBTQ+ folks in Miami, we mean White. But we never say White LGBTQ+. White is the default, and so maybe if you have one photo of a Black person, you have met your quota but never really interrogated the interior of what Black queer life looks like in Miami. What a shame that it has not happened, but also what an absolute delight that it is happening now.
MV: We are here. And that’s all there is to it.
NG: This work existed before these attacks [by Florida governor Ron DeSantis], it’s existing during these attacks, and it will exist after these attacks. Because storytellers and artists have always been resistors and will continue to be that.
CD: As Miami-Dade natives and people who saw this city grow and change, how does this experience inform your work as historians, curators, and archivists?
NG: I was born and raised here. I saw a Black queerness all around me. In high school, in middle school. But I think an interesting thing working on the exhibit, that I didn’t realize, was how prolific drag shows were in Miami’s Black communities. We often think you have to go over to the causeway on Miami Beach to perform. But I really smiled a lot as I was doing these interviews with all of these folks who were like, “Yeah, there were epic drag shows at the Lord Calvert Hotel, at the pool in Liberty City.” Even the Flea Market USA, which was recently torn down, was a spot for drag performances. And then I started asking elders all around me, “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this?” Then they would rattle off the name of all the drag queens, to my surprise.
This is also a reminder of why we have to talk to our elders and why we have to have these intergenerational conversations. Especially when history is under attack. Because there is so much living memory among us. There are so many people who lived this history and are still with us. So having these conversations was incredibly powerful.
MV: And putting together an exhibition like this in Little Haiti, in a neighborhood that’s just gentrifying before our very eyes, it’s bittersweet. I’ve raised my child here, this is my home.
It’s really hard to see the changes that are happening caused by a variety of issues. I think it’s important for exhibitions like this to remind us of the history that still exists here within our communities. At this point, all of Miami is gentrifying, South Florida is gentrifying, and we don’t have laws that would help be a buffer to us in any way. This is, in many ways, the wild west or the “wild south.” We don’t have rent control, and we don’t have laws that protect us as citizens, although people are fighting for them. So it’s important for us to see what is at stake, and I think this exhibition does that. It shows us what community we have and what will be lost if we don’t do something about it.
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CD: At the end of the gallery, “The Repast” by Loni Johnson is an installation site to grieve and celebrate. Can I hear more about it?
NG: We need space to grieve. We need room to cry. We need room to hug each other. The memory space is called “The Repast” because of the tradition of Black homegoing services. After the burial, you go to the home. That is when the memories come up, when the stories happen. That celebration of life happens in “The Repast.”
If we’re talking about Black queerness, it is necessary to be able to grieve the people we have lost. Our trans sisters who have been murdered. Our elders who have gone on. All the people who are departed loved ones. To have a space where we can get together as a community to say: We missed them, we love them, and at this moment, we’re going to make sure they get their flowers.
Give Them Their Flowers continues at the Little Haiti Cultural Center Art Gallery, (212 NE 59 Terrace, Miami, Florida) through April 23. The exhibition was curated by Nadege Green and Marie Vickles and was made possible with the generous support of Maven Leadership Collective and the University of Miami’s Center for Global Black Studies.