Self Portraits (2016-2017) by Kia LaBeija



Kia LaBeija (B.1990) is a multidisciplinary artist born and raised in the heart of New York City’s theatre district, Hellz Kitchen. Her work explores the intersections of community, politics, fine art, and activism. As a visual artist she stages digital portraits as theatrical and cinematic re-imaginings of nonfictional events to spark conversation, complicating the way we view her subjects and the spaces they occupy. Her portraiture utilizes the medium of storytelling, to preserve histories, and make sociopolitical commentaries on current events. A performer by nature, LaBeija is an Overall Mother of the Iconic House of LaBeija where she explores the art of Voguing as a performance and community-based practice. She has made a name for herself in the House/Ballroom scene holding titles from The New York Awards Ball, The Latex Ball, and House Dance International to name a few. As a voguer she has performed and curated events in collaboration with MoMa PS1, The Brooklyn Museum, AFROPUNK, H&M, Fergie and Red Bull Music Academy. She speaks frequently in public on the subject of HIV/AIDS and is an advocate for under-represented communities living HIV positive including long term survivors, women, minorities and children born with the virus. 


SELF PORTRAITS (2016-2017)

In her self-portraiture, Kia LaBeija explores family, history, and identity through carefully curated tableaus of personal narrative, clothing, location, and her own body.

"In her photographs, as when voguing, Kia plays dress-up, presenting a desirable version of herself so that HIV-positive viewers may see themselves, through her, as beautiful and powerful. 'Showing the private in public changes the narrative of what things mean,' Kia explains. 'When it comes to dealing with loss, living with HIV, or anything, really, the trick is to own your story, and then be the one to tell it.'

At the New School, from which [LaBeija] graduated in 2016, she had the chance to take a class with George Pitts, the Vibe founding photo director who passed away in March. Pitts was among the first to help Kia tell her story using her camera, she says, pushing her to move past making pretty pictures and to make herself vulnerable in her work.

That work has led Kia to begin exploring the history of her birth family, specifically looking at race, often a source of confusion for her growing up. Her African-American father, from Bed-Stuy, instilled a racial pride in Kia, teaching her never to forget she was Black. Meanwhile, in the years before her death, Kia’s mother was just starting to claim her Native American and Filipino ancestry, parts of herself that had been downplayed during her own childhood. 'If I am going to talk about Blackness, about being a woman of color, then I want to know, what are the struggles of those who came before me? What did they see in their lifetimes?'" (Theodore Kerr, The Village Voice)