It’s Midnight and I am laying awake in my bed. Staring at the ceiling, my mind is racing with thoughts so quickly that I can’t focus on any individual idea. My heart begins throbbing, and I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I hold them shut tightly and try to control my breathing. I can taste the mascara on my tongue. “One, two, three, four,” I repeat to myself as I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, like I have read so many times is supposed to help with relaxation. This shit is not working! I start to panic as tears continue to stream down my face and the instinct to run kicks in. So completely overwhelmed, I can’t decide if I should roll over, grab the board from beneath my bed and run towards the bathroom window (the escape) of my parents house or reach for my pocket-knife in the drawer of the nightstand next to my head. In the moment, both were considerable decisions when thinking about the perfect escape but one meant I wouldn’t be able to Fakie: BigSpin ever again.
I fell in love with skateboarding because it is individual. There are no teams, there are no rules, there are no captains, there is nothing too perfect. No style that has to be measured. Skateboarding is completely opposite of what I saw in so many sports growing up. It is creative. It is punk. And to this day, that’s what I love; what has always kept me coming back to it — it’s relationship with endless freedom.
Unity Skateboarding is a queer, trans, femme, and person of color centered skateboard collective that originally started in Oakland, CA. The co-founders of Unity are artist Jeffrey Cheung and Gabriel Ramirez, who run Unity Press out of Wolfman Book Store. Mostly, using their artistic expression and platforms to host queer skate nights globally and in their home of Oakland, CA. Jeffrey is a formal trained artist whose hand-painted decks that are often given to queer and trans community members at sliding scale rates. Their mission is to make skateboarding and quality printing accessible to the communities they belong too as well as to build community with like-minded folks and accomplices. Their latest gallery exhibit at Antenna, “Together Nonlinear” included acrylics on canvas, screen prints and risograph prints, hand-painted decks, and zines. Engrossing print ephemera, drawings, and painted skateboard decks celebrating queer identities and the intersections of art and skateboarding, the works shown are from some of Unity Skateboarding’s zine workshops, queer skateboarding sessions and large-scale paintings depicting nude queer whimsical bodies of colors.
Immediately, entering the gallery I am greeted by a larger-scale pulchritudinous painting. The piece illustrates a group of male-centric bodies of color portraying a wider range of identities, varying skin tones, shapes and genders in the foreground of a yellow canvas. Their faces express a sarcastic joy as if it were exercising performative freedom and sexual liberation. Continuing throughout the gallery, there is a theme of sexuality and a conscious effort of celebrating community. Community as Color. Community as Freedom. Community as Vulnerability. There was no room for exclusivity. Everyone in the main gallery, seems to be non-plussed while observing the wall covered completely in old skate day fliers, zines, artist trades and posters creating an interior that feels like a teenager’s sanctuary of queer skateboarding paraphernalia & queer art. These works displayed a visual narrative of queer connectivity, while fostering openness that coincides with community; the way I’d envisioned “queer skateboarding” in my fomative years.
Jellyfish! Cibo Matto! Paramore! Dance Gavin Dance! Living The Color! Pavement!
Growing up, I was always getting into trouble to accomodate my introverted reservations. Always uncomfortable and pretending to be normal. For me, a part of seeking freedom meant being “punk.” In turn, meant skateboarding, but the pastime of riding on a skateboard was political. The politics were always linked to music which was used as an accessory when skateboarding. Music was a way to find out if a person was someone you’d want to hang out with. I didn’t speak much of politics but I knew what it sounded like. I didn’t quite understand the context but it felt familiar. Cacophony! I liked how it made me feel. Every kick, push, and shinsplint felt like a radical protest to the chorus of my favorite Jellyfish track. There was something so liberating about waking up and spending the entire day sweating in an airbrushed tee, jncos trousers, and scruffed entries(lol). For me, I wasn’t the type of punk who had access to hard-drugs to do in my friends older siblings plangent small apartment hallway, but I also wasn’t a “New Waver” — people who would dye their hair yellow and pink after seeing one art film. I was sort of in between: an “art punk.
The work in “Together Nonlinear” activated my “gaydar” while challenging my sensibilities and the provocations proposed by the art. I began to view the work as real strategies for challenging our behaviors, relationships, and understanding queer languange when exercising community. As black and brown non-normative folx, we are often so othered at the essence of our beings that it demands for a new language to interact with the world.
The body of work reminded me of my own youth. Growing up in a small town in southeast Louisiana, I wasn’t exactly promoting queerness rather fearlessly performing identity but contemplating the collection: I was offered an opportunity at what that might of been like. It embodied the prunk-prep affinity and idiosyncratic angst that negotiated my queerness. A distraction. Finding ways to negotiate my queerness felt like a chore depending on the time of the year. For example: Arizona teas, Chee-weez and oversized-tees would become somewhat of the only essentials to the quintessential summer aesthetic for a subversive youth eager to get into anything to fill a void of the non-recreational suburbs. I was ardent in doing whatever I could to protect the one thing that shielded the bountiful escapism: Skateboarding!
Before the internet, when you found your community, it became your kindred. There were certain places you’d go and you’d just know that you were going to run into like-minded people. Perhaps that’s was the nostalgia of “Together Nonlinear:” the chance to think about my late teens and early twenties as a way to understand and memorialize things that shaped me and discard those I cannot carry anymore. I am reminded of a recipe for repairing that I heard once: Reverse storytelling allows for sturdy truths to emerge without a linear process of the inevitable and most importantly, for more nuanced discoveries that are harder to synthesize when we live only in the moment.