Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Winner of annual Illuminations Grant for Black Trans Women Artists announced

Lee Laa Ray Guillory, a New Orleans-based artist, has been honored as the winner out of four outstanding Queer|Art finalists.

Queer|Art, New York City’s home for the creative and professional development of LGBTQ+ artists, is pleased to announce the winner of the second annual Illuminations Grant for Black Trans Women Visual Artists, Lee Laa Ray Guillory. The New Orleans-based visual artist will receive a $10,000 cash grant, professional development support, and individual studio visits with members of the judges panel to support her practice.

2021 Illuminations Grant Judge and legendary performer and fashion icon, Connie (Girl) Fleming writes: “Lee Laa Ray Guillory submitted work that moved our spirits and hearts, with a weighty context that carries it on into a future of widening and illuminating the Black Trans experience and its artistry.”

2021 Illuminations Grant Judge and photographer, Texas Isaiah said: “Lee Laa Ray Guillory has shown exceptional insight into the interiority of Black mysticism and alternative photographic practices. Her profound methods will insert her into a contemporary visual history filled with heartfelt and inventive image-makers who are changing how we witness ourselves and each other.”

Guillory’s work reveals the transgenerational trauma among Black femmes in rural Louisiana. Meticulously staged practices such as hair maintenance and oral tradition are magnified through enchanting lighting and cool hues. Dense braids often dangle divinely from above, threading together quiet moments of reflection. Other times, coils of hair are clutched in outrage. Documenting Black femmes in meditation, enraged states, and all that lies in between, Guillory’s cathartic photographs illuminate the healing potential within the sacred.

As the second annual winner of the Illuminations Grant for Black Trans Women Visual Artists, Lee Laa Ray Guillory was selected from a pool of applicants hailing from 17 different states. The judges, who were chosen by Queer|Art to review applications for the national grant include visual artists, performers, and filmmakers from around the country: Connie (Girl) Fleming, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Texas Isaiah. Developed and named in partnership with Mariette Pathy Allen, Aaryn Lang, and Serena Jara, this annual grant draws attention to an existing body of work, sheds light on the under-recognized contributions of Black trans women visual artists, and provides critical support to their continuing work.

On receiving the 2021 Illuminations Grant, Lee Laa Ray Guillory said:  “Winning this grant will afford me the financial aid necessary to continue my photographic research which aims to interrogate both the spiritual intimacies of Black Southern Femme ecosystems and the ancestral veneration practices we often employ as a means of collective survival against white supremacist patriarchal capitalist regimes. This award will directly fund the completion of my forthcoming work,“This is My Boy Which Was Broken for You,” an image and text based book artifact that channels the voices of my late maternal grandmother and the femmes of my matrilineal bloodline. This book pays homage to the fallen matriarchs of the Black Acadiana region by weaving personal diaries, family portraits, childhood illustrations, regional lore, and sacred text to illuminate rural Louisiana’s complex relationship to colorism and the sexual exploitation of black femme bodies. I am beyond humbled by this award and feel honored to be recognized by Queer|Art.” 

In addition to Lee Laa Ray Guillory, four other visual artists were acknowledged as finalists for this year: Golden, Yasha Lelonek, Glori Tuitt, and Jhona Xaviera.


Golden (they/them) is a black gender-nonconforming trans-femme photographer, poet, & community organizer raised in Hampton, VA (Kikotan land), currently residing in Boston, MA (Massachusett people land). Their work has been featured on/at Shade Literary Arts, the Offing, Button Poetry, Vogue, Buzzfeed, i-D, Interview Magazine, the Boston Globe, & elsewhere. Golden holds a BFA in Photography from New York University (2018)

Yasha Lelonek

Yasha Lelonek is an actor, model, director, multimedia visual artist, and hot girl moving the world. Yasha holds a BFA in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of The Arts. She is the director and star of the multimedia film short Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair, creator of the painted-photographs Happy Birthday Gia Love and The Muses, author of the choreopoem FIEBRE, and star of the upcoming short films Pretty Boy and Las Tres Chicas.

Gloria Tuitt

Glori Tuitt is a Painter and Illustrator based in the Bronx, New York. A graduate from Purchase College with her B.F.A in Painting + Drawing her work focuses on the intersections of race, religion and pop culture in relation to the cultivation of identity. She is dedicated to the centering of black trans bodies in the arts and has collaborated with many social justice organizations hoping her practice will return ownership of trans form to trans artists. Ultimately seeking to both deify and humanize the black trans experience.

Jhona Xaviera Fabian

Jhona Xaviera Fabian (they/she) is a Dominican-American, Boston-based multimedia chimæra who weaves together visual and performing arts into stories that embody the multiplicities of their Afro-Caribbean trans experience. They received a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in 2020 and have infiltrated gallery, performance, research, and virtual spaces in Massachusetts and North Carolina.

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