“As of right now, Wilmington has limited spaces for those who are transgender or gender non-conforming, especially for trans people of color,” TR Nunley tells. “For over two years, I have dreamt of having a transgender and non-conforming closet—a judgement-free zone filled with a variety of free donations from the community so that it looks like a mock clothing store.”
In June Nunley’s dream came true inside the walls of Athenian House on Wrightsville Avenue. Trans* Closet is open for business, with over 3,000 items donated from the LGBTQIA community and its allies.
Having launched in February by founders Lori Wilson, Khalisa Rae Williams and Alicia Thacker, Athenian Press and Workshops became a reality inside their headquarters of Athenian House, thanks to $35,000 raised via Kickstarter in the fall of 2017. The trio of women had a vision to construct a safe place for folks to dissect ideas of social justice, feminism, intersectionality, artistic excellence, community-building, and more. They opened Athenian as Wilmington’s first feminist bookstore and event space to serve underrepresented people within the community. In a short six months, femmes, people of color, trans, gender-nonconforming writers, and other marginalized voices have been given a sound stage—a place to come “home,” to speak out, to share their experiences with open arms. The house has hosted workshops and podcasts, as well as meet-ups from various organizations. Essentially, the space culls hope and provides healing, as well as creative support that encourages resistance of oppressive constructs and ideas that no longer serve a world made up of so many varied people.
Part of Athenian’s programming has come in the form of artist-in-residence exhibits, to showcase the work of talented painters, photographers, and other artistic media. It has inspired the next step in the nonprofit’s need: to raise $5,000 with their Art of Resistance Auction to take place on Saturday. The founders reached out to participants of their artist-in-residence program, as well as constructed an auction team of local activists Franchon Frances, Angelina Kiaka and Samm Sawyer, all of whom found work to fit the theme. They also called for submissions via social media.
“The work was striking and stunning,” according to Wilson. So far they have a collection from artists Heather Divoky, Amy Grant, Nathan Verwey, Addie Joe Bannerman, Courtney Rivenbark, Gaby Merediz, Bri Mellot, Leslie Cohen, and award-winning Japanese illustrator Yuko Shimizu from New York City.
“The auction idea came about after Alicia had been a part of the famed Marilyn Minter feminist art exhibit, held in New York’s Guggenheim,” Williams tells. Minter’s striking photography blends risqué imagery with high fashion, while her paintings evolve from negatives that incorporate enamel on metal with signature silver liquid. “We knew the theme needed to be resistance in homage to Minter,” Williams continues.
Included in Athenian’s take on the idea will be artist Gaby Merediz’s stark painting of a set of lips (encore’s cover photo), which can be interpretive of many ideas. Though they exude sex appeal in their hot red state of controlled speech, the pink set parses resistance and overflows with secrets and desires to be set free—to break from the partriarchal roles put upon women throughout society.
Merediz also contributed “Divine Feminine Collage,” which she created with the thought to break down male-dominated power structures. “As much as many of us don’t want to see it or admit it, it’s the way society has evolved, and women have lost touch with themselves, their power, their femininity, their ability to create, to rise, to intuit,” Merediz tells. “In a way, this art is about resisting blind acceptance of a life that’s molded by patriarchal society. However, it also reflects a deeper resistance. Women and men often resist the divine feminine inside of them because they’ve been led to believe that it’s less than, somehow. In fact, for many of us, the divine feminine parts of ourselves have been downright pummeled—through trauma, rejection and shame. By bringing a positive light to a woman’s body that represents creation, intuition and femininity—and a part of the human body that many of us ignore—I hope to help women recognize, observe and celebrate their value, their power, their unique essence.”
Courtney Rivenbark’s more direct protest piece showcases three women of varying ethnicities and backgrounds fighting for the same cause. More importantly it shows them breaking the eggshells they had to walk on their entire lives just to receive the same birthright of every human: equal footing.
Addie Jo Bannerman’s “how far will you go” imbues a sense of fearlessness and courage. She wanted to show women comfortable with themselves and their places within the world. “It takes a brave soul to stand up for themselves and their beliefs, but it also takes thick skin to deal with resistance from the outside,” Bannerman tells. “The hardest part of it all to find the balance between pride and compassion. I think the title of the piece, ‘how far will you go,’ complements this well; If you stay solid in your beliefs and also stay empathetic, you can go as far as you desire, but it takes strength to resist going too far.”
To showcase resistance art is to put on display all of the tropes that have challenged underserved people across the ages. That means it may speak to politics, culture, socio-economic status, sexual identity, gender roles, and the like. In the end, it hopefully will cultivate discussion and connect viewers to more compassion and understanding.
“Visible resistance gives us hope of a world in which fostering art and expression within a community does not inherently lead to the displacement of its core residents and businesses,” Williams reminds. “For this to work, art communities and artists would need to accept responsibility for the effects of their practice, and proactively work to be more inclusive and respectful of the spaces and cultural histories they are entering. This fits in line with our mission because Athenian believes that artists and writers should be using their platform and voices to speak out and comment on the social climate. By just existing in these times, and expressing, artists are performing a ‘political act.”
Athenian’s fundraising goals will help launch more outreach programming, but especially in partnership with other nonprofits who serve the community at large. Included are LINC, which provides traditional housing, job training, substance abuse treatment, and medical services for newly released inmates; Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc., which provides housing, guidance, and educational programming for folks of domestic violence and abuse; as well as New Hanover High School students.
“We want to use a portion of the funds for our national author series and bring authors to Wilmington to speak, perform and offer workshops,” Williams continues. “Youth and adults in Wilmington need to see black and brown and queer authors speaking and teaching.”
“Athenian has created a strong foundation with Khalisa’s help to establish a regular event series that seriously impact so many folks,” Wilson praises. “We’ve over met capacity so many times. Opening Athenian connected us with many beautiful voices and that’s what I’m personally most thankful for. Several social justice groups have used our space to hold events, and it’s just wonderful to see that synergy.”
The fundraiser will include music from Entangled Dreams, Skylark Pearl and solo artists, as well as poets from Charlotte, plus food from Pine Valley Market and Sweet ’n’ Savory. The auction of art work will take place at 8:30 p.m. with a live auctioneer accepting bids, ranging from $25 to more than $800. Monies raised help Athenian continue the good fight.