Joelle Mercedes and their Angelitos Negres

Joelle Mercedes and their Angelitos Negres
Born in 1990 out of the consequence of a c-section 
brown clay, moss and midnight 
the universe of my mother’s body stretches beyond her belly 
I, removed through moisture and discomfort 
sever a snake, 
waves and waves pass across my tiny spine
Joelle Mercedes is an artist and educator who claims the North Atlantic humpback whale as an ancestor to disrupt the notion of human-centric kin, and further speculate on pre-Colombian existence. Joelle currently lives and works in Chicago.
My dear friend and magical being Joelle Merceds [@_jooeellllee_] is the artist behind the many brown queer little love angels that you’ll see flying around Botanica Cimarron. Read our conversation below to delve into the genesis of these babes blessing us with radical love.

 

✦ Botánica Cimarrón ✦  

Holaaaaa mi amor! When I knew I wanted queer cherubs to be a part of Botánica Cimarrón world you instantly came to mind as someone I wanted to work with. We both grew up on Lenapehoking lands in NYC in Dominican households and botanicas were a regular part of our community. For folks who maybe have never visited a traditional botanical, how would you describe the space for them?

 

✧ Joelle Mercedes ✧

Saludos mi Vida!!!! It is a pleasure to engage with you in this conversation. Botanicas are a room of many rooms or a bridge connecting the African Diaspora within Abya Yala (Las Américas) through spells, plant medicine, funhouse mirrors, fire, shadows, ceremony, and community. These connections are materialized through commerce, conversation, generosity, and trickery as protection. My first encounters with them were with my Abuela, she was one of my best friends as a child, and the reason why I believe in magic. 

 black queer cherub

✦ Botánica Cimarrón ✦  

Ahora diga me! I love this movement of queer Dominican freak artists that we've found ourselves in. On the island and from the diaspora, there's this new wave of people like Johan Mijali tearing down historical illusions and creating new dialogs of being. Do you think your art practice gives you space to explore liberation?

 

✧ Joelle Mercedes ✧

I love that you bring up Johan Mijali, her work is so important to me, especially how the work invites Black Queer and Trans people to be disobedient. I seek to be disobedient in my life as an artist and in my personhood but sometimes fear and shame get in the way. Disobedience in this case can be multiple concepts therefore I will try to narrow it down into one main idea. Disobedience is a resistance to the trappings of virtuous dogma. Within my practice, I am beginning to allow myself to really play rigorously and not worry so intensely about the outcome and that feels liberating! 

 black queer cherub

✦ Botánica Cimarrón ✦  

I know that our magic is radically ancient beyond Catholic tropes even though I don't "see us" represented in classic images of angels. What was flowing through you as you brought these queer love angels to life?

 

✧ Joelle Mercedes ✧

“Our magic is radically ancient beyond Catholic tropes'' I say this three times till all the white angel figurines fall to the concrete floor breaking into hundreds and hundreds of little pieces, allowing the tradition to die making space for other ways to continue, to unfold and persist. 

The process of creating these angelitos negres has been very experimental. Yes, I took into consideration your notes about features, wing size, and potential color, but overall it felt like a series of trial and error. I knew I wanted certain elements that invited whoever came across these angels to think about transformation, play, curiosity, and ancestry as something beyond humans, age, or past tense. And I love winged beings, I love birds such as herons, crows, red-tailed hawks, cardinals, and cormorants. The birds prior I have witnessed in and around the park and lagoon that are close to my apartment. Birds are magnificent. Their respiratory systems are way more powerful than ours, which brings us to question

What can they teach us about breathing? To witness birds spread their wings to take flight or land is like a magic trick, I am always in awe. I feel really connected to them and I also respect the distance between my existence and theirs. They truly connect the ancient world to the future, along with trees and large bodies of water. 

 black queer cherub

✦ Botánica Cimarrón ✦  


Part of the world I think I want to create is one of unabashed romance. Wearing our hearts on our sleeve for how we want to live and the desires we have for true freedom and pleasure. Is there a utopia that lives rent-free in your head? 

 

✧ Joelle Mercedes ✧

The things you mention resonate a lot, living life through our true desires and emotional vulnerability. Also, in thinking about another world or the becoming world I yearn for the power to name ourselves beyond ideas of nation, citizenship, and false borders. Un mundo where the word Latino no longer exists. Un mundo that is compassionate and where violent notions of “goodness” also don’t exist. Un mundo where we step into discomfort and generosity. Un mundo where people and animals are not kept in cages. Un mundo where our worth is not tied to productivity.

black queer cherub

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