Talking About Joy, Legacies, and Afrofuturity: An Interview with Lola Flash

Lola Flash with “Syzygy, The Vision.” Photo courtesy of Lola Flash.

I first met Lola Flash over ten years ago while working at the queer dive bar Nowhere in downtown NYC. Through my interactions with Flash, I became familiar with a quality unique to her work—how she consistently used and continues to use “photography to challenge stereotypes and offer up new ways of seeing that transcend and interrogate gender, sex, and racial norms.”1 Trained at the Maryland Institute of Art and later earning her Master’s degree from the London College of Printing, Flash was an early AIDS activist and ACT-UP member.

Her latest series, Syzygy, the Vision, reflects her unending desire to make viewers not only look, but really see more expansive conditions of possibility for people of color and queers of color specifically. This collection is rooted in Flash’s embodiment of a gender-fluid, mythical being named “Syzygy.” A term describing the alignment of three celestial bodies, a Syzygy is a regular occurrence when there’s a full or new moon. Syzygy, then, is Flash’s way of queering the configuration of time as a linear past, present and future.2 In this series, Flash visually examines what she deems “the horrific inheritance of slavery and racism” and its impact on the current moment.3 Through her self-portraits, Flash aims to create an imaginary space where she, as Syzygy, is ultimately free.4

For this issue, I interviewed Flash twice, before and after the insurrection at the Capitol Building on January 6th. We discussed Syzygy, the Vision, Afrofuturism, Flash’s participation in the Black Lives Matter protests, the criminal justice system, how to find joy, and the power of legacies. We also discussed our commonalities as butches of color and educators, and how these positionalities inform our approaches to navigating our current political moment.

Karen Jaime (KJ): Before we begin talking about Syzygy, I wanted to ask about the folks who are making a film about you. Could you tell me a bit more about that? Do you have a tentative title for the film/project?

Lola Flash (LF): “Anywhere But Here.” And the filmmakers are going to animate some of my Syzygy images. I had to really think about whether or not to do it because it’s my story, and I don’t really know about filmmaking…the filmmakers wanted to talk about my 2008 arrest.

KJ: Why were you arrested? Does your arrest influence Syzygy, the Vision? If so, how?

LF: Basically, for smoking a joint. I had half a joint on me and they—the cops—pulled me over. I was freaked out. So I said to myself, “well, if you act like a smart Negro, they’re not going to kill you.” I told the cop I was a teacher, but that was stupid because what happened is that they took my teaching license away and it took six months to go back to court. Since my teaching license was suspended on August 28th, and school was just about to start, I was not able to start teaching. I am still paying off my credit card because I ended up buying groceries with it. It’s been 12 years. That is part of the impetus for the Syzygy series. I mean, us Black and Brown people understand that police brutality and racial profiling is nothing new. I bring this up because the film crew/director kept asking, “Do you know anyone else who has been arrested for drugs?” They kept wanting to go down that road, and that’s part of my story, certainly in thinking about Afrofuturism because we’re also looking for the joy in our histories, the joy that hasn’t been exposed. For example, why don’t we talk about my great grandfather who set up the YMCAs all over? Who has a school in Montclair named after him? Or my mom who was the first Black principal in my hometown? There’s a lot of joy in my life too.

When people ask, I say that I got arrested for walking while Black because that’s really what it was.

KJ: Exactly! I can see how your arrest visually informs your work as Syzygy, and I would like to discuss the differences between the images before and during COVID, the Black Lives Matter movement, and all of the protests this past summer.

In looking at your photographs, what I find compelling is how Syzygy is always looking towards something in the distance while embodying this idea of Afrofuturity, gesturing to the possibilities for queer joy, queer survival, and queer living, beyond “just making it day to day.” Both in terms of costuming and setting, through Syzygy you seem to be saying that “no, there’s something that’s way over there as well.”

“Chain Gang.” Photo courtesy of Lola Flash.

For example, in this image “Chain Gang,” Syzygy is out of the frame, but the viewer knows it’s Syzygy because of the orange handcuffs. The orange handcuffs are not just an accessory but a way for Syzygy to comment on the carceral logics negatively impacting Black people in the United States—something you experienced firsthand. Through the handcuffs, you create a photograph that documents a moment situated both in the past and in the present.

 We as the viewers cannot be sure, but this image could be set in the past. It could also be set in the present. This could also be happening in a future that is engaging with the past because we have the rust contrasted with the shiny newness of the orange handcuffs. The hand isn’t open, it is holding onto something where the past and present are in conversation with each other. When you posted this on Instagram, you included a sentiment first expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that “None of us is free until all of us is free.” This photograph prompts us, the viewers, to ask what does freedom mean? How does Syzygy seek to embody it?

“Stop Killing Black People.” Photo courtesy of Lola Flash.

KJ: In this image, “Stop Killing Black People,” I see Syzygy corporeally articulating how, in order for us [as BIPOC people] to get to the future Syzgy is signaling to through their helmet and everything else they wear, we have to mobilize and take action in the present.

“Grand Central Station.” Photo courtesy of Lola Flash.

 I love the images of Syzygy in open spaces—like the walk through Grand Central Station. It’s a space of transit, yet there’s no one there. No one is going anywhere, except for Syzygy. These are the remains, if we think about a queer afterlife, or an Afrofuturist present. At the end of it all, Syzygy is still there, in motion. They are representing/signaling endless possibilities, other ways of being, and other places to go. The viewer can see in the background the listing of trains that no one is boarding.

“Back At You.” Photo courtesy of Lola Flash.

Lastly, this photograph (figure 5) is actually the background on my iPad. I chose these images (figures 2-5) because I feel like they are signposts operating in conversation with one another that map a trajectory for Syzygy.

LF: It’s interesting to revisit these. Some mornings I wake up and I’ve seen a quote that then makes me think of a picture. it’s kind of nice to go back and look at these and how I “captioned” them, think of them in a different context, through your eyes, in order to understand what your interpretations of them are. I feel that the ‘thinking with’ is part of the artistic process.

KJ: Yes, definitely! In looking at these images, I see how they visually reference Afrofuturity but also a resistance to anti-Black violence. I read in an interview that you self-identify as Black and Native. Could you talk a bit more about that and how your self-identification influences your work? Who or what are some of your other influences?

LF: My grandmother Lola, she was Native American so thinking about the Native American ancestry definitely makes me also think about being African American. Both of those cultures have always had double or triple spirit people as higher ups [or] people that are looked at in esteem. Also, this idea of honoring the land, my background, my DNA, feels very grounding and like I’m of the earth. I think that those two backgrounds just make me feel very, very confident. I often talk about coming from people who were enslaved, and how they had the chutzpah to think about freedom. I feel blessed, and that’s part of Afrofuturism. I want to remind us of all that beauty we’ve read about before. There’s so much genius in our, in my, background and those are the kinds of stories I really want to uncover. I have that in my family. I see that genius in my own family. Both of my parents went to college during a time when Black people couldn’t vote. I never thought about that before, but can you imagine? Lola Flash is born from an amazing Black woman who couldn’t vote, and she went on to become the first Black principal in my hometown. That’s why I always talk about legacy. You asked that question—what inspires and motivates me? Family legacy is what drives me. I’m taking the baton from my great grandfather. He knew that Black folks deserved equity, and my great grandmother too. They taught people how to read. I always talk about the Y[MCA]. It was like a mecca in Montclair for all the people in North and East Orange, all these little towns around there, where Black people didn’t have any place to go. I’m carrying forth something that my great grandfather knew was important. I always say, if you don’t have a Charles H. Bullock in your life, then maybe you can be that person who creates that legacy for your family.

In a nutshell that’s my impetus, that’s my love. That’s why I can sit here for twenty-four, forty-eight, seventy-two hours—often seven days a week—and not feel alone.

KJ: Legacies are also about histories and trajectories, which makes me think about your earlier projects in relationship to Syzygy. What compelled you to frame Syzygy as a gender-fluid being whom you, a butch, embody? While similar to your other projects in that you seek to increase the visibility of queer, gender non-conforming and trans folks, Syzygy is different because you are both looking and being looked at. What I mean is that you embody Syzygy rather than capture an image of someone or something else. How does Syzygy come about? How does Syzygy, as subject of the photograph, develop in conversation with your other series, if we are to think about it within the framework of legacies? Syzygy is now part of the legacy of surmise, [sur]passing, and salt.

LF: Well, you know this year has been such a whirlwind of a year, filled with so much sadness and death. Yet, I had all of these studio visits with MoMA, the Whitney, and ICP [the International Center for Photography], for example.

And I’ll get to your question in a second, but a lot of it does have to do with my reaction to George Floyd’s demise.

I started off this year by saying to myself, “you know what? I’m 61, I’m going to write to these MFs and I’m going to say, ‘when is my studio visit?’ Not, can I have one? But when is it? This is when I’m available, when are you available? As a result of doing that I started getting responses, and I continued reaching out to all of these folks who heard me because they knew it was overdue. I even joined Black Girl Basel, a group that hosts these get-togethers during Art Basel. It’s not just queer women, it’s just women. They embrace the wholeness of what women are, which I really appreciate.

So, your question again—I’ve been delivering talks and doing all of these presentations, and I started realizing that all of the other series I’ve done up to this point have crystallized into Syzygy. Especially when I reflect on my composition and all of the different ‘isms’—racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ageism—and gender issues and how Syzygy is all those things. It’s all in there. I think that’s the magic of art.

Talking about the magic of art reminds me of how I met my girlfriend Jaishri [Abichandani] at my show in London. She was participating in a show at the Ford Foundation. She asked me to think about Afrofuturism. I then came back to America, went to Woodstock, NY, and in ten days I was able to shoot.

KJ: What year was this?

LF: This was August of 2019. I had planned not to shoot but since Jaishri gave me that little task, and I was dying to have a show at the Ford Foundation, Syzygy just started from there. After speaking with her, I went back to the flat and ordered my helmet. I already had a host of incarceration outfits in my bedroom and the orange handcuffs. Then I thought “Who’s the person?” I looked at myself in the mirror and said: “Well, looks like it’s gonna be you Blanche,” because there aren’t that many Black people up there in Woodstock.

“Afro Gothic.” Photo courtesy of Lola Flash.

That’s how this project started. I’ve done self-portraits for years. If you look at that picture (figure 6), that’s in front of the house where I stayed. I, [as Syzygy], had my shield down. I was trying different things. I knew some of the things I was dealing with, but I didn’t know what my visual vocabulary was going to be. But I thought, “well in the future, I bet you the air is not going to be so good. So, let me keep my visor down for some of them.” I didn’t know that three months later, the air was going to be contaminated with Covid.

I entitled this image “Afro Gothic” because it makes me think about “American Gothic.”

KJ: Yes! I think that “Afro Gothic” asks the viewer to reimagine “American Gothic,” not just in terms of the title but also in terms of time. Syzygy signals the present moving into the future while referencing the past. “American Gothic” is this remnant of a past rendered through Americana, steeped in whiteness, framed within the rural.

LF: Gordon Parks did his “American Gothic” with the lady holding a broom, and with the American flag in the background. This (figure 6) was one of the first pictures I put up at the beginning of Covid on Instagram. People were asking me about my not wearing gloves.

KJ: They thought it was in response to Covid? Doesn’t this mean, then, that Syzygy has foresight and was letting us know? Is Syzygy prophetic?

LF: That’s the nature of being an artist because you have a really attuned imagination. And for a long time I used to wonder, “am I ever going to grow up?” I feel like we’re allowed to have this really creative, crazy imagination when [we’re] kid[s], but then [we] grow up and the world wants us to be so realistic. I have always felt so uncomfortable around adults.

KJ: I think that Syzygy highlights how there is always a way to imagine other ways of being, other ways of seeing, and other ways of navigating the here and now. I think that’s something you’re signaling. I think this is also something Syzygy is doing.

 Was that an Airbnb you rented?

LF: No, so that was actually the house the artists lived in. For years, the Center for Photography at Woodstock used to rent a house, and finally they bought this cute little house right on the corner. It’s a two bedroom, and there is this whole studio.

KJ: That’s where you took the picture where you’re sitting in what looks like a director’s chair, correct?

“Homage to Kerry James Marshall.” Photo courtesy of Lola Flash.

LF: Yes, that’s an homage to Kerry James Marshall.

KJ: Wow. Wait, so the name of the series was initially Afrofuturism and you later changed it to Syzygy, the Vision. What prompted that shift?

LF: Originally I didn’t realize it was going to actually be this whole series. I had started this project in order to be in that Ford Foundation show (Utopian Imagination). Then, once COVID [happened], I realized I had something I could easily move into.

KJ: In framing Syzygy within Utopian Imagination, it seems to me that the shift from Afrofuturism to Syzygy, the Vision signals a move away from the broader concept of Afrofuturity or Afrofuturism to a more singular focus on an entity that seems to transcend a number of different boundaries. Syzygy is an embodiment of multiple concepts and moves through different spaces in different times.

LF: Yeah, [the shift] makes it more specific; I realized that I kind of became this vessel, an avatar. I found a grounding and [figured out] where I was going with it.

You know, although I’ve been a big fan of Missy [Elliott], George Clinton, Octavia Butler, and I’ve always been tuned into it [Afrofuturism] on that level, it’s interesting for me to be doing conceptual work now. I used to always poopoo it.

KJ: Why? I am someone who gravitates towards conceptual art.

LF: Maybe that’s why you like this one [Syzygy]. I do like some conceptual work. In general, I think that sometimes the artists just make it too complicated. I mean, I [earned] two masters and I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at. It feels elitist. I think too many of my friends are afraid or feel challenged when they go to museums. Their response is usually “I don’t know what I’m looking at.” I think that, ultimately, artists want people to enjoy their work, to understand it or to maybe just like the colors. I’m doing conceptual work 101 and I think it has to do with my being a high school teacher. Sometimes I become concerned or worried that I don’t have the right speak. You know, I don’t speak “artspeak.” There’s a way that many of these younger artists who are fresh out of college speak, and the words they use I used to find intimidating and they’d make me think, “Oh, I need to be talking like that.” Sometimes I have these little buzz words I write down. Many of my friends and other people tell me, “Well, we like how you speak in a direct way. We understand what you’re saying.”

KJ: [You have to] think about who your audience is, what communities you want to make visible, and what communities you want to be able to access your work. I instructed this grad seminar in fall 2020 entitled “Minoritarian Aesthetics.” The seminar focused on the aesthetics in art created by and about BIPOC artists. Specifically, I asked the participants, “What are the aesthetics of these different types of performances and the art-making practices involved in their production?” I mention this course because there were a couple of students who, before participating, would often say, “I don’t think I’m going to sound really smart or really theoretical.” My response was that I wanted to know what their ideas were and how they were experiencing the work alongside the readings. I told them that writing their papers while using “theoretical language” and a certain vocabulary was useful because it demonstrated to people that they knew how to speak in an “academic” way. Yet, they needed to remember that it was just as important to be able to speak to the communities that don’t have the same levels of access as they do, and who ultimately inform the artistic works we were studying. Communicating in a way that’s defined as “academic” or “theoretical” is not about the majoritarian White artistic establishment; BIPOC folks have to force these institutions to engage with what we’re producing. We [BIPOC communities] want to redefine how they [majoritarian White communities] engage with art.

LF: That’s really smart and a really powerful way to think of it. I think what you’re saying reminded me of when I was a young artist. I never wanted to show in galleries or museums. I felt that my audience was the people who were in the pubs and the restaurants. Luckily, I met this guy, Arnie Charnick, who did a lot of amazing murals in the East Village. I met him early on when I moved to New York and he told me “the world is my gallery.” In coming from a fine arts college, I had been taught that museums and galleries were where my work was supposed to live. I was really lucky that I met him because I never really had any impetus for galleries or museums. Now, the only reason that I’m pushing for it is because I realize that the thing about museums is that 100 years from now when I’m not here, some little queer cute girl like me is gonna say, “Oh look, that looks like me! We were here 100 years ago. We were out and proud and beautiful.”

KJ: Also, museums have institutional archiving. I think about how we can intervene and how our responsibility is to make visible our communities, to aim to be heard, and to intervene in those spaces that constantly don’t showcase us or acknowledge our contributions. Who’s paying attention to these communities? In particular, queer of color communities in this moment? How can we begin to reimagine what happens in terms of queer nightlife, for example, and the ways that queer nightlife signals other possible ways of being? The reality is that not all queer folks want to get married, and not everyone wants to have kids. Many queer people still want to have random sex and generally push up against a particular homonormative way of being. Where can we see that happening? What happens to the queers looking for that, but who are only presented with the Disneyfication of queerness?

LF: Yes, say it! Say it! I did a talk for this zine with these young dykes in Brooklyn. They were saying that they’re a part of a generation that can only read about the Clit Club.5 I think about my club days and that part of my life, and there are so many queers who didn’t have the chance to experience so many things. I shared with these young dykes some Clit Club slides as a way to show them what was going on during that time. I hadn’t thought about queer nightlife in the way you frame it. I think that brings up the need for intergenerational conversations. There are some younger queers who really want to hear that history and are open to sharing those experiences.

KJ: I think that, as educators, we both find joy in those moments of sharing, of being in conversation and community with people. The coming together, for me, is necessary for survival. I keep asking myself how do we find joy? Where do we access joy during a global pandemic when White supremacy continually shows itself in ways that are physically violent? If we think about Wednesday [the January 6th insurrection], that can be a very debilitating and disheartening moment, where White supremacists violently riot yet don’t face the same consequences as peaceful protestors from communities of color, specifically Black and Brown communities. People were escorted into the Capitol Building and then escorted out while Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her home for no reason.

LF: Yes, and officers were taking selfies with them. My mom would always say that we have to laugh about these things. Particularly the African American community, but really any community of color, you deal with life by making a joke about it, because otherwise you’re crying. I guess that’s what joy is, it’s like laughter.

KJ: Yes, and this moment during the pandemic and all of the racist violence makes me reflect on the joy of traveling, of being able to get away. You originally wanted Syzygy to travel abroad. How has that been impacted by COVID? Are you still hoping to travel whenever we are safely able to?

LF: I’m patiently waiting to get the acceptance from the Black Rock Residency and then I’m gone. I’ve heard some schools aren’t going to be back until September, so I see myself being home until then. And who knows what the summer has [in store] for us with the vaccine coming in and everything. But I’m not willing to die for my art. Thinking long term though, in two years I’ll be retiring and by then, we’re definitely going to be okay, and that would allow me to travel longer. Everything is up in the air, but it’s like we’ve talked about before, every one of my projects is folded into this idea of roaming the globe, this global fascination and wanting to get an understanding of how all these different ‘isms’ I’m dealing with, how they look in all of these different places. Of course, Syzygy would be a part of that. Also, the need to go back to West Africa for me is pivotal for Syzygy. Visually, there are so many different images and landscapes that I would love to be able to recreate. Also, to be able to find out more about the foods my ancestors ate, and just all those things that are sometimes big and sometimes small but are part of the culture that, as an African American, I didn’t grow up knowing. My parents were not Afrocentric. I had to fight to get a damn afro! They were intelligent, well-read, educated college graduates, but I think [they were part of a] generation where you wanted to assimilate in order to achieve greatness.

KJ: In thinking about Syzygy, the keywords/concepts that keep coming up for me are joy, this thinking about legacies, and the charting of different trajectories. I believe that Syzygy will survive and will continue to move towards this future just over there, where we can access that joy.

LF: I don’t know if I’m going to be around to see it.

KJ: I think that it’s here now, in those different moments of joy we’re able to access. Because the future isn’t necessarily a destination. The future is part of an ongoing journey.

LF: Right. Yes. When I think about ultimate joy and the idea of it, as hopeful as I am, I don’t know. I think humankind has just always had this need to do that hierarchy thing. In some ways it’s very hard if I think about it altruistically, or without any emotion. Is there a way for humans to be able to have this level playing field where we all have a chance? Because there’s so much greed. If we all have the same salary, then is that going to help so that people don’t feel so hungry? [Or is it all about] “keeping up with the Joneses?”

KJ: Well, that’s the problem with all of this. It’s capitalism.

LF: Yeah.

KJ: It’s about living within this insidious capitalist construct that by its very nature is about the accumulation of goods and services at the expense of others. It’s devoid of sharing. Think about how the political rhetoric demonizes anti-capitalism by saying that the radical left is trying to turn this into a socialist country. The problem is not socialism, but the stockpiling of wealth while there are people starving. Moving away from capitalism means that the privileged aren’t the only ones who get to benefit from particular vaccines before other people, for example. It makes sense that the economically privileged become upset at this idea of possible equity. I don’t want to hear about equality. I want to hear about equity.

LF: I rarely ever say equality anymore.

Also, I think there’s something in the credence or the makeup of people of color that’s not ugly like that. If you think about the way that we define family, we honor our elders. I remember when I had a White girlfriend, and I would say hello to the little Black lady in line or let her get in front of me, my girlfriend would ask, “Do you know her?” I would respond, “No, we just grew up honoring our elders, and that’s part of our culture.” This makes me think about how, from an early age, we are taught to code-switch whenever we go outside. We couldn’t act like we were crazy or our parents wouldn’t allow us to go outside, or we would get knocked upside the head. But I see White kids who never had to face any consequences, and when they grow up it’s the same thing. There aren’t any consequences.

My students, or any young people who are Black and Brown, they don’t have a chance to even really be kids. It is this understanding that you have to just act right all the damn time or else you’re going to fucking get killed. Do you know what I mean? You have to play the game from a very young age and if you look at these poor kids like Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin who died, there’s a very clear indication that as a young Black and/or Brown person, you cannot be a kid.

I remember this [White] girl. She was a friend of a friend who stayed with me. We were out walking, and she had a plastic bottle, but it looked like a Jack Daniel’s bottle. She was swigging it and I asked her “what’s that?” She told me it was water. And I thought of how a Black person would never walk down the street drinking from a bottle that looked like that because they would be pulled over. Something that simple, drinking damn water out of a bottle that looks like Jack Daniels. We cannot do that because from an early age we learn how to code-switch and we learn how to be chameleons, to be fluid in different environments, to camouflage ourselves. I wear my button-down shirts so that I look like a Professor. It’s so tiring and really scary.

KJ: It’s not just a matter of aesthetics or personal taste. It’s not a game; it’s a matter of survival. We come to understand that the ability to move in different spaces and ensure our survival is contingent on our ability to “read the room.” From a young age we are taught that we’re going to get arrested, be smacked around and/or that we might not make it home. That’s the thing about Wednesday [the insurrection at the Capitol]. That riot was a very clear example of this.

LF: Yeah, of how the police are just like those White people, even though the police officer who arrested me was Latino.

KJ: Latinos can be White-supremacists, racists.6

LF: He was. For me as an artist, it’s infuriating. For example, the picture I posted on Wednesday of the Ku Klux Klan? That picture was taken 30 years ago. This is nothing new.

KJ: I have a hard time with this moment of disbelief at something that not only have we—as BIPOC folk—grown up experiencing, but it is something that we’ve been saying is a reality, has been a reality, for centuries. And people are still acting incredibly surprised.

LF: Yeah, exactly. Obviously, it’s all about the need for a whole systemic change. I do believe that those abolitionist White folks had children, and their children became the good White folks to a certain extent, but at this point they are realizing that they need to think about their White privilege. And that even though they have been donating to the NAACP, for example, they have to do some deep soul searching and realize the ways that they are continuing to support this White supremacist system.

KJ: If you don’t fight the system, you’re complicit in it.

LF: This makes me think about Agnes Gund and the ways that she has contributed to the art world in America, especially New York.7 She has Black grandchildren, and I always think about her because she’s probably the richest person I know. But the way she has used her money…. You know, she sold that Lichtenstein for how many millions and started that prison reform organization. So, I think there are those kinds of people out there and they are in touch with what is happening, and they will be able to start transferring their funds to organizations that need them. I can’t help but be optimistic because what else can I do, really? I think that there will be this place where it won’t just be the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor, it’ll be a place where people can survive at least. I mean, it makes no sense that there are people right now starving.

KJ: What you are signaling is this need for a shift toward people with privilege interrogating that privilege and then utilizing it to bridge the economic, social, and racial divide. For example, after the insurrection, when you watch CNN and MSNBC, they were very clearly stating that if the rioters were Black and Brown people, they would be dead. I think it’s crucial people acknowledge the racial inequality and the racist violence that continues to happen and that the reason the rioters weren’t killed is because they were White. Also, let’s not ignore the reality that one of the reasons there weren’t as many cops available is because a lot of those cops were probably breaking into the Capitol building as rioters.

LF: I love your language. The way you speak about it. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you about this series. It makes me more excited about it, and it also gives me other ideas to think about going forward with the project. I think back to our days at Nowhere Bar. It’s beautiful for me to share my project with you. It’s adding another layer to it. I don’t really do collaborations, but it feels like we’ve collaborated [in terms of] ideas. It’s really nice to be able to have these talks where I’m talking to people out there.

KJ: For me, this has been so rewarding. When I first saw the call for this issue I asked myself, who do I want to think with? What do I want to think about? What types of ideas? How can you and I collaborate in terms of ideas and concepts that emerge from a project I’m really drawn to? Moreover, how can you and I think collaboratively about what Syzygy, the Vision is doing, not just in light of our current political moment, but how can we imagine and think about the type of realities and futures we would like to see, imagine, and work to create?

LF: Also, the work is about you too. In my mind, I’m helping to tell your stories. We share a lot of commonalities that I’m hoping to share with the world. As an artist, of course I think about the communities I belong to, but being able to speak to you, we’re both lifting each other up.

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This entry is the latest installment in the Thinking With series. See the rest of the series here on ASAP/J! 


  1. Flash, http://www.lolaflash.com/aboutlolaflash.
  2. Merriam Webster Dictionary Online, s.v. “syzygy,” accessed January 15, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/syzygy.
  3. Email from Lola Flash detailing the Syzygy, the Vision series.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “Founded in New York City in 1990, the Clit Club was a nightclub and performance venue that offered a sex-positive, racially, economically, and culturally-mixed queer space of encounter for self-identified lesbian, gay, and trans people for over twelve years.” Tolentino, et. al, “The Sum of All Questions,” 467.
  6. In her recent essay, “To understand Trump’s support, we must think in terms of multiracial Whiteness,” Cristina Beltrán argues for what she terms multiracial whiteness as a way to understand the participation of Latinos and other communities of color in Trump’s racist movement. https://www.washingtonpost.com/.
  7. Agnes Gund is a philanthropist, collector of modern and contemporary art, president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the chair of its International Council. She received the National Medal of Arts from former President Bill Clinton in 1997. Gund in 2017, sold one of her favorite paintings, Roy Lichenstein’s Masterpiece, for $165 million in order to start the “Art for Justice Fund.” Dispersing money to artists and organizations within five years, this fund seeks to disrupt mass incarceration by “funding artists and advocates working together to reform our criminal justice system.” Gund is also one of the subjects for Flash’s salt series that features women  70 years of age and older who are still active and passionate about their work. Through salt, Flash seeks to challenge how beauty is equated with youth.