Artistic community honors lives of Breonna Taylor and Vanessa Guillén at Queens Museum

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Photo by Dean Moses


An evening of artistic expression in honor of Breonna Taylor and Vanessa Guillén, who were killed by police and a fellow U.S. Army soldier, respectively, took place in front of the Queens Museum on Thursday, July 9.

The intimate event, organized by Queens-based arts collective Kaleidospace in collaboration with Queens Liberation Project (formerly known as Justice for George Queens), welcomed almost 100 artists and families with food, arts and crafts, dancing, music and spoken word.

Kaleidospace’s founder Manuela Agudelo said that while the event was meant to offer space for healing after weeks of marching against police brutality and systemic racism, they can’t forget the reason they were there in the first place was because of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We will breathe. We will dance. We will continue to make art,” Agudelo said. “Black and Brown people aren’t gonna stop existing and we’re not gonna stop being joyful in the face of injustice and in the face of the people who keep trying to harm us. We’re gonna love each other so much stronger every single time that they try to come at us with more hate.”

Photo by Dean Moses

During the event, Agudelo and fellow QLP members reminded attendees about Taylor and Guillén. Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville nurse, was shot eight times by police who executed a no-knock warrant for what they said was a drug sting. No drugs were found, and so far only one of four officers involved has been fired, according to NBC News.

Guillén, a 20-year-old U.S. Army specialist based in Fort Hood, Texas, went missing in April. After demands to find her turned into a national outcry, the Army began an investigation in which they found her remains. The investigation revealed that another soldier killed her and later committed suicide, according to CBS News. Her case ignited military members to share their stories of sexual assault and racism within the military system.

“I’m hoping that this will remind everyone of their beauty and not just of the tragedy of their murder, because they were such beautiful women who had amazing values and amazing plans for their lives,” Agudelo said. “I want to let them live on through our art.”

At the event, a QLP organizer asked participants to take a knee as they read the names of Black trans individuals who’ve been murdered due to hate violence.

Photo by Dean Moses

Demands for justice and a call for fundamental change were reverberating messages throughout the evening.

Kids, teens and families got to create their own artwork with paint, color markers, canvases and other supplies provided by QLP.

Mark Saldana, a proud Queens artist of Mexican descent, donated most of those supplies.

“As an artist I really feel like I need to reflect what’s going on in the world,” Saldana said. “Staying home after a while and reading the things that were happening with George Floyd, and all these cases, I said, ‘I really need to use my voice and create artwork for the people.’ I always made art and I feel like now it’s more powerful for me to use it for the movement, and just not stay silent because se me amarga la boca [it leaves a bad taste in my mouth].”

Later, 9-year-old Brianna was the first to read a poem, a sweet spoken word about her and her family’s love and passion.

Agudelo then introduced her mother, a professional dancer, who gave participants a socially distant salsa lesson. Masked participants gathered in front of the Queens Museum, following along her movements as salsa music blasted from the speakers.

Photo by Dean Moses

Organizers also collected donations for a food and personal protective equipment drive they’re organizing for Queensbridge Houses.

Jackson Heights State Assembly candidate Jessica González-Rojas attended the event, and was asked to speak about reproductive rights — something she’s been fighting for for years as the former executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.

“The late, great Audre Lorde said, ‘There’s no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,’ and that is in essence what reproductive justice stands for,” González-Rojas said.

She later paused for a moment of silence for Sha-asia Washington, a 26-year-old Brooklyn woman who died after giving birth earlier this month. Her death, along with the death of another Bronx woman, has amplified discussions about the treatment disparities Black and Brown women face in the health system.

Queens Museum’s Communication Manager Heryte Tequame said they learned the event was going to take place near the museum after seeing the event posting on Instagram. They, in turn, let attendees use their restrooms and their sound system.

“We wanted to show up and support the initiative, and be here to hand out snacks, water and face masks,” Tequame said, standing behind a table the museum had set up.

The event included several performances by Queens artists. Some sang, some rapped, some danced, others gave powerful spoken word performances, and there was even a stand-up comedian.

Photo by Dean Moses

Activities went on well after nightfall.

As the sun set, attendees grabbed some chalk to leave their mark in front of the museum, writing messages like “Black Lives Matter,” “Las Vidas Negras Importan” and “Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, We fight. Period.”

Photo by Dean Moses

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