Photo by Charla Harlow

InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month ELIXHER spotlights Brooklyn-based painter Genesis Tramaine.

ELIXHER: Tell us a little about yourself.
GENESIS: My name is Genesis Tramaine Frederick. I’m a portrait artist. I’m an art teacher. I’m a God-lover. I paint under the name Genesis Tramaine. My art students call me Ms. Frederick. I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I attended public school and my saving grace was painting.

Seven years ago, I needed money to pay my rent. So I decided to open the doors to my apartment and sell my work. I made 500 flyers by hand because I didn’t have the money to actually print them. Unbeknownst to me, I had the opening on the day of a block party. I ended up selling three of my pieces that day and I was able to pay my rent. I thought to myself, “Maybe I am good.” [Laughs.] I had just come out. I didn’t want to live double life. It was a chance to say this is who I am. I had no idea that I’d end up where I am today.

This is my third year teaching. I started teaching Algebra. Now I teach art in a District 75 special education program with emotionally disturbed children who have dealt with trauma in some way. They have extreme outbursts of anger; some of them have severe learning disabilities and autism. To give them an outlet with art has been a blessing.

ELXHER: Tell us about your upcoming art show.
GENESIS: The show is called Sacrificial Lambs. I’m showcasing 30 of my students’ works and five of my own. Due to the bureaucracy of public schools, students are sacrificial lambs. Students of color with disabilities aren’t given the same resources as white students with disabilities. My kids are sacrificial lambs, unfortunately. They are set up to fail.

ELXHER: What was the inspiration?
GENESIS: I asked myself, “What sacrifices have I made?” What sacrifices have people made for me? What sacrifices have my students made? My students are my greatest inspiration. When I was in school, someone took the time to say to me, “You’ve got something.” I want to do the same for them.

ELIXHER: What role does your gender expression play, if any, in your career and craft?
GENESIS: I tend to present very masculine. I present as I am. I teach in the same clothes that I paint in. Sometimes my students ask me whether I’m a boy or a girl and I always answer, “I’m a woman.” I don’t hide the fact that I grew up in the projects. I represent coming out of that. I don’t hide behind it.

ELIXHER: How has your spirituality guided your personal and professional journey?
GENESIS: When I came out, the first thing I did was stop going to church and listening to gospel. When I came out, I felt like I not only shamed my family, I shamed God. There’s no longer a question whether God sees me or whether I’m accepted. It’s no question that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I truly feel that I’m doing God’s work.

I think my work shines a lot more because I do. Because I am comfortable with who I am. The spiritual understanding I was raised with isn’t the understanding I embrace today. It’s made a huge difference in my life. I walk with my head held high.

Painting has been my best friend. It has made me vulnerable. I face my canvas with the understanding that I have to be open and fearless. I have to be open to what God is saying. I’m just a vessel. I’ve never walked into a gallery and my work not be accepted and I think that’s because God has walked in before me. My work has matured because I’ve matured spiritually.

ELIXHER: When and why did you begin painting?
GENESIS: Painting found me. When I was 13, my art teacher Ms. Patton said, “Genesis, you’re very odd.” She always said that. “You’re very odd.” [Laughs.] Then she asked me if I heard about LaGuardia. When I said I hadn’t, she told me it was the finest art school in New York City and said I should audition. I went into that audition and I remember thinking, I’m not going to get in. They had us draw an Asian girl sitting on a stool.

At the end of the assignment, I looked to my left, and then I looked to my right and thought, “I’m better than her. I’m better than him.” That cockiness is part of that Brooklyn flavor. There’s no room on the block to be scared. If you don’t push yourself to be your best self, you will be overlooked.

Creating art has always rested with the movement of my spirit.

ELIXHER: What advice do you have for other Black queer artists?
GENESIS: Find your grounding and hold onto it. Believe in yourself and stay true to the colors you paint with. Stay true to who you are as a person. Always be willing to learn more. Be ready to go into dark times but keep pushing. Don’t give up. Walk with a level of fearlessness. If you’re waiting for someone to tell you you’re a good artist or that your work is good, you’ll keep waiting. Don’t question what comes to you naturally. Just do it. Trust yourself. And don’t wait for someone else to.

ELIXHER: You’re also the co-founder of bklyn boihood and the former creative director. What are the intersections between the work you did with the collective and your craft?
GENESIS: I’ve always created spaces for other queer women who identify as bois in the way I create a safe space for myself. I paint the ugly and the beautiful. My creative impulse is driven by the same thing. I would pray before calendar photo shoots and I pray each time I paint. Those practices are the same. I encourage other queer women to face the world as who you are. No one can give you the acceptance you can grant yourself. You have to get down and dirty with yourself so that you accept what you see looking back at you in the mirror.

ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
GENESIS: When I grew up in Brooklyn, I didn’t know there were other women who were like me. It was a very isolated existence. Now a lot of them look to me for guidance. I’m really proud to be a part of that sisterhood—that love-chain. To know that I was a part of changing that makes me walk with my head high. Queer women are just amazing. We’re smart. We’re beautiful and very talented. Being part of that web makes me very proud.

ELIXHER: What things would you like to see change?
GENESIS: I always encourage self-exploration. As a painter, I want to hit the canvas with as many colors as I can and with no rules or limitations. I would like to see less binaries, less rules, less boxes that we place ourselves in. I want the titles, the roles, the emotional abuse, the physical abuse to dissipate.

ELIXHER: What’s next for Genesis?
GENESIS: Well, I just found out that I have a show in April.

ELIXHER: Congrats.
GENESIS: Thank you. I’m going to continue to teach. I was recently asked to do another web series. I was also accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was awarded the Dean Scholarship.

ELIXHER: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
GENESIS: Come to the show on Thursday, December 6. God is good. Keep praying. Always give praise. Always give thanks. Always give back.

For more information about Genesis Tramaine and her artwork, “Like” her on Facebook and visit her Tumblr page. RSVP for her upcoming show, Sacrificial Lambs, here.

 – Interview by Kimberley McLeod

Kimberley McLeod is a DC-based media strategist. She is the founder and editor of ELIXHER.com.

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Your go-to resource for all things empowering, thought-provoking, and pertinent to Black queer and trans women and non-binary people.

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