Lola Flash by Juno Roche
Illustration by Elena Durey.
Juno Roche writer, campaigner and creator of the 'Finding our T Spot' set of events, happenings and conversations. Juno has been HIV positive for more of her life than not. Her work celebrates trans and non binary uniqueness and difference. In 2015 she was awarded the Blair Peach Award for outstanding contribution to Equality, shortlisted for European campaigner of the year, and listed for the past 4 years on the Pride Power List. She writes for a wide range of publications from Refinery29, Diva, The Tate Magazine, Photoworks, Them, Novara Media, The i and many others. She is currently working on her first film project.
The work of an artist or activist is often judged by the length of their career, their output or impact of their work on social or political change, only very occasionally do 'creative-activists' make enough money to sustain a career and the production of a body of 'life- spanning' work. There is a such a burn out rate of being relevant and becoming irrelevant, being energised and becoming worn down, and very occasionally coming to an artistic or political dead-end. Sometimes we achieve that which we seek to achieve.
Activism is tough, despite the insidious attempts across social media to denigrate it with accusations of 'snowflakery' smothering free speech, activism - seeking to create a better, kinder world, is draining. A lifetime of activism is a life wrought from humanity and beautiful intent, a lifetime of creative activism is a miraculous thing for creativity needs hope and an aspiration to reach a truth, pair that with the harsh climate in which we exist and you have a miraculous but exhausting life.
A lifetime of creative activism needs honouring, needs acknowledgment and celebration.
Only a few creative people stay relevant and energised and it seems that this often happens because they sit more comfortably within the frame of their own lives, like the artist-activist Lola Flash. Speaking with Lola recently she described herself as an artist who has always tried to use her work to seek representation and social change, "I believe that my place in the art world is the challenge to create beautiful images which record the amazing souls who have been deemed invisible".
Flash's subjects are the people deemed to lack purchase or place in 'accepted' societal structures, back in the late 80s and 90s the subjects were the people living and dying with AIDS, shot in negative and inverted colour the subjects have a subtle tenacity. Often they were personal friends and the titles sometimes include the year of death. At that time people with HIV/AIDS were often depicted as skeletal and awaiting death in a hospital bed, Flash gave her subjects life through their activism and the brilliance of a colour spectrum. I have a print of Flash's from that period, the print depicts 3 figures, 2 in motorbike helmets and 1 in an army cap, carrying guns, it isn't clear if they are, but many of her subjects at this time were on ACT UP demonstrations in New York and Washington.
The piece is titled 'Aids Warriors'.
I was diagnosed with HIV in the early 90s, this image symbolises our fight for dignity and our fight against stigma through those early years. Despite the guns and helmets the subjects are not aggressors, but they are armed and ready for the fight that did ensue, the fight for queer lives. Flash's work is savvy and pragmatic, stripped bare of fuss and detail her subjects are powerfully but quietly present, these people exist in the world and Flash's photographs present us with their truths often silenced by discrimination be it racism, homophobia, transphobia or a combination of them all.
The series entitled Salt features women over the age of 70, an age when women are way past the point of invisibility that society cloaks us in but these women are still passionately engaged with their life's work. They, photographed at home (to capture the texture of their lives states Flash) are ready to start working; an artist and a civil rights activist among the subjects gaze at us knowingly; ageing is natural, being invisible is not. These women are getting on with their lives, through the photographs we are shown our collective future and now, we are warned and we are advised to be awoken. Flash's photographs cleverly position us tightly within our own view of age and visibility. The sitters energy zings out and offers us wisdom.
Perhaps for me the most poignant series is entitled Scents of Autumn. To contextualise, Flash says of herself when I ask about Trump that she has always experienced 'side eye' when she uses public toilets , she is astonishingly handsome, her androgynous style frequently celebrated, she goes on to say that 'my work continues to suffer from homophobia, racism, sexism and now ageism'. In this context Scents of Autumn makes perfect sense and is, for me, a more intensely powerful comment on being queer and being an activist than the photographs in which the broad spectrum of queer and trans maybe present.
In describing the series Flash talks about stepping back and needing time away to recuperate. "After years of creating work that deals with racism, sexism and homophobia I decided it was time to return to a focus solely on the formal elements of art, such as form, shape, texture and colour", she goes on to say, "even a life-long activist and artist, like myself, requires a break from the injustices of life."
Those of us who are consistently turned away from society are often depicted without a home, without a land; outsiders, societal rebels, wanderers, often shown as only being fixed to our struggle, our identities presumed our homes, but that's not the case, often the activist or the person discriminated against prizes-precious a safe space, a sanctuary, a familiar home. This series of photographs shows elements of New York seaside neighbourhoods in the glow of Autumn light, summer waning seems to envelope and still slightly warm. You get a real sense of Flash's vast humanity and integrity in this photographs, a sense that she, like us all, needs to just be and to just breath in the silence of the seasons.
Lola Flash has created an astonishing body of work that allows her sitters to breath dignified air where and when society may withhold, and in Scents of Autumn through her depiction of recently empty summer resorts we witness her affection for the world we all inhabit. There is a certain genius to getting us, the viewers, to breath more easily, I sense Flash knows that we all need to pace our yearning for a better world with a quiet tenacity. I ask Flash if she feels we can ever rest in terms of our LGBTQI gains, "Never!" she replies. "Like racism, one foot forward and two steps backwards, always barely floating, yet we are not drowning, there’s so much tolerance but not acceptance. That’s where we need to be. Equity and equality is but a dream, and I won’t ever settle for less."
Illustrator Elena Durey is an queer Irish illustrator, currently studying BA (Hons) Illustration in sunny Falmouth and would like to meet your dog.