Pride: Embrace & Liberate
A letter from our Director of Artist Collaboration on Pride
Han Santana Sayles
March 2, 2022

Happy Pride Month!

I’m Han, a curator and the Director of Artist Collaboration at Meow Wolf. (Han produced Meow Wolf’s first Pride celebration in 2019). I’m typing to you from my quaint office space filled with some small pieces by my favorite LGBTQ artists; a book by Edie Fake, a calendar by Christopher and a framed poster from Meow Wolf’s first Pride celebration in 2019 designed by Sydnee Mejia. It’s a certain type of serenity to be surrounded by these liberating works of art and that’s what Pride means for me—liberation!

Meow Wolf's Director of Artist Collaboration in front of a room at the House of Eternal Return
Han Sayles in the Pip and Pop room at HoER. Photo by Allyson Lupovich

So why is June Pride Month, Han?

Well friend, the original Stonewall Uprising was initiated at the Stonewall Inn in New York City on the night of June 28th, 1969. Police raided the bar frequented by LGBTQ patrons, a common occurrence, but that particular evening, enough was enough. The people fought back! By some accounts, Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, is said to have thrown the first shot glass to rebel. The Inn exploded into a vicious clash between the patrons and the police, leading to riots that evening and subsequent protests for weeks. Immediately after the riots, the Gay Liberation Front formed, an awakened generation of activists that broke off into separate cohorts such as Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), Radicalesbains, and Gay Activists Alliance. All of these groups were organizing the first ever Pride march, originally called, “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day.” It was a march to demand legitimacy, respect, and freedom, which is why we now celebrate the work of LGBTQ folks for the entire month of June (bonus that it’s also the most beautiful month of the year)!

Room filled with a giant rainbow heart and disco balls on the ceiling
Pop up by artist Marina Fini at Meow Wolf’s Pride Celebration in 2019. Photo by Kate Russell.

While the Stonewall Uprising was important to the history of Pride, queer liberation did not begin at Stonewall Inn. Humans have had varying gender presentations and sexual orientations since the beginning of time! In New Mexico, one particularly inspiring figure for me is the prolific artist, We’wha. A member of the Zuni Pueblo, We’wha was “lhamana,” which is traditionally a male-bodied person who takes on the social, wardrobe, and ceremonial roles of women. We’wha was bilingual, an advocate, and part of the Zuni delegation to Washington D.C. in 1882. As an artist, We’wha made pottery, looms, prayer feathers, and textiles; work which was eventually collected by the Smithsonian. We’wha was also among the first Zuni artists to produce pottery and weaving for sale to non-Indigenous people and part of this effort led to traditional Indigenous arts being recognized as fine arts. Iconic! This is just one example of one culture’s gender-nonconforming traditions—I encourage you to seek out these histories and present-day stories this month while sipping on an ice cold Gender Fluid from Omega Mart. Here’s one opportunity: the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women is hosting a training June 24 about Two-Spirit LGBTQ people.

Person in all white on a stage with confetti going all over and a crowd below
Meow Wolf Pride Celebration at HoER. Photo by Kate Russell.

Now, depending on your bubble (and I live in a very gay bubble) it can feel like LGBTQ rights have already won with the passing of gay marriage in 2015, the mainstream acceptance and celebration of gay culture and, personally, the number of young queer and trans kids I see in my own community living freely. I (joyfully) scream about mainstream gay icons like Billy Porter, Alok, and Elliot Page. BUT, according to the Human Right Campaign, 2021 has seen a huge increase of Anti-LGBTQ bills, 250 to be exact, spanning from religious refusals to bills affecting trans youth to bills about blocking the educating all youth about LGBTQ people and history. Additionally, trans women of color in the U.S. particularly suffered, tragically with 44 violent fatalities tracked by the Human Rights Campaign in 2020 (the highest since they started recording these deaths in 2013). We cannot celebrate without acknowledging that Pride started as a RIOT to protest violence against the LGBTQ community and it must remain a protest, one we are all actively participating in, against intolerence, discrimination, and suppression.

So, how does the Meow Wolf community relate to this effort?

In reflecting myself, I return to the relationship between art, liberation and the ethos of Meow Wolf. We are building wild fictional worlds that have the power to transform people’s perspective; experiencing the exhibit for the first time ignited a feeling of freedom in myself as I know it does for others! In doing so,we also influence outcomes in our reality by freeing ourselves from the constraints that suppress us all, from close-minded uncreative and dogmatic perspectives that seek to annihilate difference.

Purple tinted room with a sign that says "Eat Queer for Breakfast"
An installation by Secret Love Collective at Meow Wolf Dark Palace in Denver, co-curated by Han Sayles. Photo by Kate Russell.

As a community of creative thinkers, it is our responsibility to interweave the intention of embracing and elevating diversity into all of the messages and work that we share with the world. I see it happening, and I ask you this Pride month to add new inspiration to your repertoire through self-education and action regarding the LGBTQ community. By creatively bringing this purpose into the spaces we occupy and the work we do, I promise you it furthers the aim of liberation for us all.

With Love, Han

Author Bio: Han Santana-Sayles is a curator and the Director of Artist Collaboration for Meow Wolf, an immersive, collaborative arts exhibition based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Meow Wolf aims to curate the best creatives across every medium throughout the world while offering exhibitions as a platform for diverse, emerging, and underrepresented artists across the country. Han gravitates towards futuristic sci-fi aesthetics and maximalism, often incorporating parody or humor.

Watch our mini doc on Han’s art scouting trip in Los Angeles at Spring Break Art Show and how she got her start as a creative collaborator and champion of artists.

This year Meow Wolf is taking action to support the LGBTQ+ community. We’re partnering with the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico and The LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada to provide training for our team, and make financial donations to support their incredible initiatives.

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