Tourmaline Rewrites Stories as They Should Be
Art Young Artists 2021

Tourmaline Rewrites Stories as They Should Be

The world turns for Tourmaline. Drawing from two decades of organizing and activism, her artistic practice is rooted in envisioning a counter history for Black trans communities. Lately, she’s been working on three main projects: a biography of Marsha P. Johnson in collaboration with her sibling, Che Gossett, premiering a film at the Brooklyn Museum as an extension of her Pleasure Garden project and designing a swimwear line for Chromat, with a runway show at Riis Beach. She ascribes the expansion of her practice to all the generous teachers that have shown her kind mentorship. “There’s so much pollen in the world,” she tells me.

Tourmaline moved to New York in 2002. She grew up Catholic in Boston, where she became accustomed to the ritual of religion, but for the last 20 years has practiced astrology avidly instead. A friend called her “such a Cancer”—it led her to learn more about herself in a way that she didn’t have access to before.

Tourmaline, Pleasure Garden, 2020. Photography by Dario Lasagni, courtesy the artist and Chapter NY.

Much of her practice hinges on the term “critical fabulation,” from the scholar Saidiya Hartman. It refers to the violences that an archive can enact on marginalized communities (to exist as nothing more than a mark in a ledger) but also the power that rewriting those stories can have on our lived experience today. In Salacia (2019), Tourmaline’s film at the center of her 2021 exhibition “Pleasure Garden” at Chapter NY, she focuses on the life of Mary Jones, a Black, trans sex worker who lived in New York in the 1830s. The film is set in Seneca Village, a free, Black, landowning community that was destroyed for the development of Central Park. Part of Tourmaline’s project is to make evident that which has already or has always existed: “I reflect back through my work the beauty and ease and power and joy of my community,” she tells me, “and it has an effect on me, the maker. And that effect is that it makes me remember, to remember who we really are.” This sense of gauzy, elliptical time pervades all of her work. I asked her what dreams she has been having lately. She gave me five: to do a residency in space, to make a film, to buy a Lamborghini and cover it in “slutty” little flowers, to get more rest and to have more fun.