The Grey Area: Non-Binary Artists Bring Color to New Paltz

Non-Binary Artists of New Paltz. From left to right: Serena Hale, Amanda Aponte, Eunice Draw

Male is to black as female is to white. But what about everyone in between?

For too long, non-binary and gender fluid people have experienced a huge amount of erasure and harassment. It is imperative to support those who are underrepresented, especially when their voices can bring about change in how we view and accept different gender identities. 

“We are in the fledging stages of this revolution, this mass awareness of the gender question,” said music writer Anastasia K. Zimitravich in Bust magazine.

The iconic Frida Kahlo created self-portraits that emphasize the fluidity of gender, rejecting rigid masculine and feminine characteristics. In 1921, Man Ray famously photographed Marcel Duchamp as his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy. Now, the show “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” is being featured at the New Museum, the largest show to date at a major museum to tackle gender fluidity. 

When people start to support and accept the alternative, it paves a way for some of the most wonderful artistic and cultural dialogue, according to an article by Planned Parenthood.

With this being said, here are three non-binary artists of New Paltz: 

SERENA HALE

Fourth-year student at SUNY New Paltz and a BFA painting major, Serena Hale is a figure artist who dabbles with self-portraits and nude art, working primarily with pastel and acrylic. 

Hale’s seductive and captivating art acts as the window into their life, beautifully displaying their sexuality, romanticism and gender expression upon canvas. 

“I kind of drew myself realizing that I was trans. That experience is really reflective in my work because it couldn’t have not been. There is no way I could’ve drawn myself and not included the gender dynamics that I was exploring.” 

While Hale challenges the gender binary in place with courage and persistence, one of Hale’s biggest insecurities comes with people misunderstanding their art. 

“Sometimes I worry that my art doesn’t challenge the binary as much as I would like it to because of the way I physically look. Am I really able to show my feelings about the gender binary when there are preconceived notions from my viewers who are looking at my body, which isn’t necessarily a visibly trans body?”

“Generally, showing my art is a very vulnerable experience so I feel more sensitive. I don’t want to associate my feminist ideology with the fact that I have a vagina.”

Being misgendered can be a very triggering experience for many non-binary individuals. Hale acknowledges that being misgendered is one of their biggest fears and struggles when presenting their art. 

“If people viewing my art are looking at an image of me having sex with someone and they are referring to me as ‘she,’ then it feels a lot more personal than a stranger calling me ‘miss.’ When I was okay with not being seen as non-binary, it was easier to just make images of myself and not have any weight behind how they are read.”

Hale continues to work towards their BFA thesis, currently using soft pastel to draw themself giggling in the arms of two of their partners on a purple and pink primed canvas. 

“I want people to understand where I am coming from. That I am happy in my queer life—that it’s beautiful, unique and exciting. I just want people to look at my art and feel the feelings that I am putting forward.”

EUNICE DRAW

“A lot of my art is a f*** you to gender.” 

Recent 2018 graduate, Eunice Draw majored in visual arts and minored in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS).

“Until recently, I have always been in-between identifying as a woman and setting an example as to how women should be seen, and then disregarding it completely because I don’t believe in the inherent binary. Towards the end of my studies with WGSS, it pushed me to not want anything to do with the binary system.”

Draw has always considered themselves an artist. Being raised by their artist mother, Draw attributes their artistic development to her. 

But it was New Paltz that inspired Draw to start creating political art. “My art changed because I was taking WGSS classes. At my final show I did a mixture of the two. All of my art was political and intersectional identity-based.”

Collages are Draw’s specialty.  

“I am a collector of weird items that I find in places, usually on the ground or in the trash. I always look for patterns and weird images. I start with magazines —specifically Chronogram— and just rip out stuff and keep them. For me it’s kind of like music, where you can hear different songs and put them together and think ‘wow these would work really well together.”

“I’ll create a collage and after that, I realize there was a deeper meaning, but it was subconscious. A lot of that has to do with how I see the world as a femme person. It’s kind of an abstract view of my experience.” 

Draw’s most recent collage incorporates a Chronogram cover of an ice box. The collage is meant to be an awareness piece to benefit Matthew Rojas, the New Paltz community member who was recently abducted by ICE officers.

Draw recently applied to the winter pop-up show hosted by CelebrateWomxn845 at the Roost in New Paltz. Whether their art will be accepted and presented at this show is still unknown. Draw’s collages can be bought at the New Paltz boutique Rock Candy Vintage.

AMANDA APONTE 

Fourth-year SUNY New Paltz student and BFA painting major, Amanda Aponte challenges the status quo with their oil and digital paintings and sculptures.  Aponte began painting with the desire to explain their own human existence and to bring an understanding voice to the table. 

“I paint a lot of self-portraits and, as a non-binary person, I paint more androgynous figures.”

Aponte’s art revolves around social constructs and the idea of living in a structured society, exuding the sense of conflict and the struggle of being trapped inside a system. 

“Over the years, I have found myself circling around a number of thoughts, which are social constructions and mirroring that in spatial constructions, like architecture and physical dimensional space. 

“I think as a non-binary person of color, I am very used to people misconceiving me even before identifying as non-binary. A lot of my paintings are about me being a non-binary person and me being a person of color. There is a strong idea of layers— a personal identity and a perception.”

The contrasting concepts of identity versus perception has continued to be a major theme in both Aponte’s life and art. 

“I am very used to walking into a room and feeling like I am being misjudged. So that experience isn’t very new to me. It’s something that I’ve sort of worked through in my twenty-one years that I don’t see myself through other people’s perceptions of me and I am secure in my own identity.”

With the ongoing perpetuation of the gender binary, it begs the question, what can there be done to change this toxic system?

“I think there’s a massive need for re-education. A really good place to start is simply the knowledge of there being more than two genders, and that you don’t know someone’s gender just by looking at them. It’s simple stuff, but it goes deeper in the way that you don’t just know someone based on any quality that you can see. The words male and female mean a lot of things, but at the same time mean nothing.”