We thought the world we built would be forever: An interview with Lenn Keller

Maybe it has something to do with turning 29, but it seems that all I want to do lately is talk with older generations of queer artists and political organizers about their lives and work. Last week I met with Lenn Keller, a Bay Area film-maker and photographer whose practice straddles the worlds of art making, political activism, and queerness.

I first saw Lenn’s work in 2010 when her exhibition “Fierce Sistahs: Art, Activism and Community of Lesbians of Color in the Bay Area, 1975 – 2000” was on display at the San Francisco Public Library. Fierce Sistahs was a collection of photographs and ephemera documenting the political and social lives of lesbians of color from pride parades to workshops to community gatherings. Shortly after I included Lenn’s series of portraits of gender non-comforming youth of color into the exhibition, “Suggestions of A Life Being Lived” at  SFCamerawork which I co-curated with Danny Orendorff.

Lenn is a living vestige to the Bay Area’s history of lesbian culture and political movements centered on the experiences of women of color. We talked about this history, and how the politics of the Bay Area attempts to erode lesbian culture, as well as her film, A Persistent Desire which traces the evolution of butch-femme identities and dynamics. While posting this interview in June is perhaps a nod to San Francisco’s Pride festivities, Lenn’s work and experience reveal a complex legacy that extends well beyond the month and provides a historical context to our current manifestations of queer protest, survival and joy.

Read the interview on SFMOMA’s Open Space.

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