La Riqueza De Lucy May Emergent Strategies & Radical Futuring Through the Art of Burlesque
"Creative practitioners...make work that validates personal experience and addresses social issues that affect them and their communities" (Meeks, 2019)
Lucy May's dance pieces and shows are delightfully colorful- bright vibrant hues surround the stage and sparkle from costumes. Recreating this joyful collage of color was essential because it is a central feature of Lucy May's artistic process and style. However, their use vibrant hues, use of colors, and beautiful papel picados (those amazingly bright and delicately cut Mexican paper banners) is not accidental-it is a central part of Lucy May's culture and how they express it in their terms. The clear acrylic laser-cut faux papel picado is a representation of Lucy May's use of color and the visibility they are giving to folks like them who face barriers in the burlesque community.
Few people who found ready success and support in the traditional burlesque community fought for greater visibility of diverse bodies because “the restrictions benefitted them and chunky but funky Latinx creators like me [Lucy May] still got left out”. Their experience in dance makerspaces parallels issues in traditional makerspaces in that it “emphasize[s] that seeing oneself represented in the space, particularly in leadership,... and making connections to other diverse spaces” is critical work that “facilitates the trust-building necessary for underrepresented individuals" (Sanchez, et. al, 2020). The brightly colored paint speaks Lucy May's expression but the clear laser cut banner represents how Lucy May's art creates a space where people can feel seen and the clarity of vision that they have for their art.
"...Writing is making. And we must first dream up what we want to see, and then concretize it by putting pen to paper." (Brown, 2020)
Lucy May creates speculatively futurist burlesque that radically articulates counternarratives for Latinx, Black, Queer, and other folx . They are a part of a thriving community of creators who have been actively carving out spaces for people to create in for years. “People often think of others work in binaries- are they masculine or feminine, are they Black or white, is their dance classic burlesque or is it not- but creation is on a spectrum,” Lucy explains, “and whenever this community of creators gets together I get to see extraordinary expressions of creativity and engineering".
The 3D printed plate on the cover of Lucy May's book represents how they are actively creating counternarratives that challenge the binaries and barriers both in the burlesque community and society at large. This book, like Lucy May's art, breaks down traditional and restrictive narratives. Riqueza Latina is the ethos that undergirds Lucy May's artistic process and expression- it speaks to the richness and diversity of all Latin bodies and cultures that Lucy May celebrates in their individual work and in the shows they produce. Also, Lucy May has a childhood connection to sunflowers (girasols) and, much like a sunflower, they grow strong, tall, and find their place in the sun. Additionally, since Lucy May is writing their own story through burlesque, it made sense that the cover of the book representing that process be textured and bold- Lucy May creates art to be felt, touched, and experienced. Even the imperfections of this 3D printed plate speaks to Lucy May's artistic process- it is about the journey, the lessons learned, and the opportunities for reflection.
"Representation alone does not create liberation from discrimination... A greater conversation must occur around supporting a culture of inclusion that not only provides equity of racial and gender visibility, but also pursues goals of retention and mentorship" (Sanchez,et al., 2020)
Lucy May creates burlesque that defies the restrictive conventional norms and standards of burlesque. Their creation process for their many other works of choreography and show development is a form of speculative futuring- it is a creative expression and iterative development of the future that Lucy wants to see. Lucy May's fusion of dance genres, music, and visuals serves as "as a platform to write the futures they want to see" (Brown, 2019).
In order to fully respect and represent Lucy May's speculative futuring process in this book, the pages literally needed to be ripped out and reworked. The pages have been folded, twisted, curled, and pulled into unique shapes. Some of the book pages, such as in the image above, are meant to represent butterflies (mariposas) because butterflies undergo a transformative process that, in many ways, reflects Lucy May's journey to the empowered artistic space they are now in. Other pages are reworked to create both a stage for Lucy May and a temple to honor their history, culture, and future.
Disorientation can "offer us the hope of new directions” (Melo, et.al, 2019)
This small sunflower (girasol) "grows" from the fertile pages Lucy May's book as a reminder that new directions and opportunities for growth can be found even in times of extreme disorientation. Prior to establishing their own space and finding a community of like-minded burlesque artists, Lucy May's experience with the traditional burlesque world caused them much disorientation and anguish. But, just as a sunflower continuously reaches for the sun, so too did Lucy May. This small girasol speaks to Lucy May's artistic grounding that comes, in part from a "feminist standpoint theory" which "recognizes that all knowledge is situated in the particular embodied experiences of the knower" (Costanza-Chock, 2020). Lucy May has shared that, even though their choice to challenge conventional norms with their art is sometimes disorienting, has created opportunities for incredibly beautiful growth.
From the music, to the dance genres, to the types of bodies selected and encourage to be on stage, much of the traditional burlesque spaces revolve around and reinforce white, middle class culture. Lucy May's art rejects this and, instead, grounds their burlesque art in exploring, expressing, and learning more about their Mexican culture, while also providing space for others to explore their cultures. Lucy May's approaches burlesque as a "cultural activity [that is] crucial to challenging rather than reproducing deficit ideologies" (Vossoughi, et. al, 2016).
This tiny 3D printed quetzalcoatl(Ket-zal-ko’-wat) serves both functional and metaphorical purposes. Functionally, this quetzalcoatl is made to be touched by the viewer of the book and, when it is stacked on top of a small battery, Lucy May's name is illuminated. Additionally, the choice to include quetzalcoatl representations here, and on the stage/temple that the image of Lucy May stands on, is to honor their culture. Quetzalcoatl is an ancient Mesoamerican god that is honored in the Mexica (Aztec) pantheon of gods. Depictions of the feathered-serpent god can be found on temples across Mexico and especially in Mexico City, capital of the Mexica empire. Quetzalcoatl is an important part of creation stories, rain, fertility, and bounty, serving as an important metaphorical representation of the artistic bounty that grows from the fertile ground of Lucy May's art that honors their culture's history and reimages it's future.
Lucy May's name is brilliantly illuminated by color-shifting lights when the viewer of the book places quetzalcoatl on a designated spot. Lighting their name is not just a nod to the stage lights that shine on Lucy May everytime they perform, it is also a representation how how their art sheds critical light on burlesque culture. Critically evaluating the exclusionary nature of traditional creative and maker spaces by challenging them through art, as Lucy May has and continues to do, creates opportunities to "illuminate liberatory considerations for future maker and tech centric spaces" (Sanchez, et. al).
“I made my own space...space for myself and others to create and express themselves, to have their art seen" (Lucy May, 2020)
Lucy May's art "conceptualizes disidentification in relationship to majoritarian ideologies oppressing queer and queer of colour subjects" because "disidentification provides a way to both acknowledge and depart from reductive, and often unjust dominant beliefs" and "it is a survival strategy that allows one to...self-identify in accordance to their own chosen ideologies" (Melo, 2018). Through their work, Lucy May expresses an identity that at once challenges the white-heteronormativity of the burlesque community, honors their cultural roots, and challenges restrictive norms that exist within their culture. Through their burlesque art, Lucy May problematizes the Madonna-Whore, or the Virgin-Slut, complex that is used to shame people.
Lucy May is intentionally depicted on a stage/temple with brightly colored beams of light emanating around them. This is intended to evoke depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe. But, Lucy May is shown at the beginning of their reveal during the (iconic) taco dance piece gazing out at the audience with an aura of empowerment rather than as a chaste Madonna. Additionally, Lucy May is shown with two 3D printed quetzalcoatl figures on a stage/temple that is created from folded book pages. This is to represent how they use the stage to radically speculate about the future in order to write their own story and how they manage to stay connected to their culture and roots.
Lucy May's burlesque show, Riqueza Latina, provides space for people to showcase and honor their Latinx cultures while also critically challenge norms. But, Lucy May's art is not just meant to uplift Latinx folx, but intended to provide space for all people who have been overlooked, held back, restricted, and discouraged by normative practices. They actively create critical art because they understand that encouraging an artistic "culture and [space of] learning that is explicitly aimed at social and educational transformation" is vital to creating space for makers like themselves (Vossoughi, et. al, 2016). By ripping, pulling, twisting, and reworking the pages of this book and through the use of intentional art and technology, this book underwent a transformation that is intended to honor Lucy May's transformative art in all of it's richness and depth.