This article is part of Hyperallergic’s Pride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.
Philadelphia-based trans-masculine artist Paper Eoghan Buck is intrinsically drawn to the natural world and its care amidst generations of shifting boundaries and human mistreatment. As a visual artist and writer, Buck has largely informed his practice with decolonial and anti-racist ideologies through community organizing as well as archival research. Looking to overturn Indigenous erasure, Buck probes the physical and prescribed histories of his chosen sites that have been altered to suit the American sociopolitical landscape to develop a multidisciplinary practice rooted in the connections between land stewardship and protective justice for the marginalized under the thumb of both capitalism and colonialism.
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Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?
Paper Eoghan Buck: I am interested in place-based research practices that contest settler colonial constructions of “The American Landscape,” which I don’t think is really a thing that exists. I tend to focus on places of personal significance and ask how the less-visible social histories of that place remain embedded, or impact the culture and ecology present today. I use visual and historical archives, interviews, organizational collaboration, and the physical materiality of a place to guide the direction of what emerges in my writing and visual making. I recently drove the entire length of the Housatonic River, which I grew up on, and am working on a large-scale map that layers historical and contemporary geographies of the watershed. The map aims to contest Indigenous erasure that is culturally pervasive in that region and draw attention to toxic pollution that has gone unaddressed for generations.
For an upcoming residency at Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR) in Philadelphia, I am building a floating windmill in the Delaware River that is inspired by a historic Windmill Island that was once located here. The windmill will power a printing press of some sort and will disseminate archives that reflect on the transformation of the river and the impacts of colonization on its ecology and culture.
H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?
PEB: I am always experiencing gender identity in context — I don’t usually isolate gender identity as a singular influence within my practice. I will say, though, that being trans has often felt like a constant power struggle. That has honed my attention to power relationships. Queer culture has been essential to my survival and has transformed my relationship with kinship. It introduced me to a collective mentality toward memory and organization. My art practice is a space where I intentionally nourish the inquiries that help me pursue what I most want in life; relationships of reciprocity, defined broadly, in the places I breathe, work, play and rest. To love, and be loved, in a world where many worlds fit.
H: Who are the artists that inspire your art today, or what are your other sources of inspiration?
PEB: Gosh — too many artists to name. I am blessed to have many mentors. I have been strongly influenced by my prior involvement in anti-racist political education and Indigenous sovereignty movements. Today, though, I have to say it is the land itself — the plants and bugs and the whole ecological spaces I interact with daily — that inspire me to keep learning and making. I am an avid gardener and landscaper, and nourishing complex ecosystems is so difficult and fascinating. Ecological and social dysfunction often grow together. The same is true for healing. I feel most nourished when I am outside, learning by doing.
H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community in the current moment?
PEB: “Stay safe, stay strong” — that’s what Black transgender activist Miss Major always says. It sounds simple, but what more can you do, ultimately, each day? Trans folks are always under attack. Value your needs. Treat your loved ones like goddesses. Trust yourself. The questions you are asking are meaningful. In whatever way you can, persist. Be you.