What do caterpillars, food, and reading queer speculative fiction have in common? The answer is visual artist Micah Bazant. Using the struggle to decolonize white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, and the gender binary, artist Micah Bazant works with social justice movements to reimagine our world.
Bia Vieira sat down with Micah to discuss and reflect on their visions of liberation, justice, and their role in producing All Bodies Deserve – our coloring book.
Micah’s work is featured in All Bodies Deserve: Creating the Future of Us, a coloring book produced with the Center for Cultural Power through our Culture Change Fund. All August long, we are celebrating and spotlighting artists and creatives taking up space and helping us imagine a reality brimming with beauty, vitality, and gender justice.
Below is a transcript of their conversation that’s been edited for clarity.
Vieira: Do you want to share a little bit about what attracted you to the beautiful Gender Justice coloring book?
Bazant: Yeah. I mean, I have had such a long relationship with the Center for Cultural Power and also some years [working] with the Women’s Foundation in California.
And so I feel like I know about your work and the folks in those organizations. It’s good folks. I feel like we have aligned understanding about our visions of liberation and justice and the importance of art. I also know some but not all of the artists who worked on the project, so it’s just like such a great opportunity to imagine with folks I respect.
Vieira: Can you share a little bit about what inspired you to create these images you created?
Bazant: You know, I love to think about how to take layered, complex ideas about liberation and just distill it into a very accessible but layered, beautiful image. And especially when I know that the people I’m working with will give me some free rein to make whatever I want. That is really a pleasure.
Going back to what inspired me to be part of the project [and] why I thought it was a great idea. I mean, oh my god, so many of us were just losing it. Especially so many of the people that I was working with. [They] were saying ‘coloring is helping me calm down my kids.’ It’s such an important therapeutic tool that we have and our society devalues art so much. Most people are so alienated from any kind of art practice; and coloring is a way that people can heal with art.
Vieira: Oh that’s so nice. Do you want to share your journey of becoming an artist and [the] medium that you prefer?
Bazant: Sure. You know, I think that I always made art and I just popped out this way. But you know, I didn’t make art for many, many years and I came back to it through the movement and through my relationships with people like Miss Major and Patty Berne and organizations like Forward Together and Center for Cultural Power. [These places that] supported emerging artists and emerging trans artists. [They] gave me little projects, encouraged me, loved me, even though I was a mess. And at a time when not everyone valued artists work in the movement. Some of these folks and and groups really saw how important it was to nurture artists.
Vieira: So, why do you think they did?
Bazant: In the context of history, obviously all kinds of art has always been part of our revolutionary movements; that’s never changed. I think in certain veins, we always have to rediscover this.
Art is essential to winning. We need to think about why and how we can use it so it isn’t extractive but regenerative. My work over many years both as a designer, as an illustrator, as a freelancer, as a cultural strategist, has been an incredible opportunity. To practice and work with other emerging artists and continue giving a gift so many people gave to me. And to inspire confidence for folks to to share their vision.
Vieira: How did you get connected with Forward Together? And can you tell us about Trans Day Resilience?
Bazant: I was doing operations work and I was just starting to do my first little designs and illustrations. Then I remember I had a meeting with Evelyn and they were still in their little office in Chinatown with 12 people in one room.
I knew they wanted a new brochure and I prepared this whole presentation about why they should pay me to make them a real brochure. That was just the beginning of everything.
After that, we did Mama’s Day and we did Trans Day Resilience which grew out of my work collaborating with the Audre Lorde Project. They approached me wanting something for their Trans Day of Remembrance Celebration. And it just took off. It was clear in 2014 there was hardly any representation of trans justice, trans liberation, the struggles of trans people of color in our movement.
And there was clearly a huge need. And so I came to Forward Together the next year; “okay, have this idea: what if seven trans artists of color from around the country were matched with seven trans organizations?” Little did I know what I was getting into, but it really was one of the most amazing projects I’ve ever worked on them.
My co conspirator, Kemi Alabi, who’s an incredible poet, was the Writing Director and I was the Art Director, and we matched poets with artists. If people go to the website, TDOR.co, they can see the archive of all the poetry and all the art. And it’s all free for the community.
Vieira: Are you still doing it?
Bazant: Yeah, we have yet to see what it will be this year, but I’m sure I’ll be a part of it. And most importantly, I feel like so many amazing things have come out of that project. So many relationships, so many careers, so many, amazing BIPOC trans artists who now are being published in the New York Times and publishing their own books.
And that sort of appreciation has helped to encourage me and take on new ways of sharing. Whether through art, supporting people, whatever. We want to use a process that really compensates and values people and artists for their work. And also find new ways to work with artists and bring artists into the movement long term, to build relationships between artists not just between artists and one organization.
For me, one of the things that has come out of it is being able to then share that information with other movement organizations, who are just starting to work with artists, who don’t know how. And for organizations that have been doing it for a long time, to show there are ways you could do it even better. You could pay artists more fairly.
Vieira: Do you want to say how Covid has impacted your work?
Bazant: I know. I don’t know what I would even say about that. I don’t… I feel like I’ve learned so much about humanity and about politics and about things my parents told me, but I hadn’t lived through yet. And like, I think I’m still digesting a lot of it. I don’t have anything specific to point to in my work yet. It’s just, I think that we’ve entered an era of collapse, there’s going to be a lot more storms; I know that these learnings will be ones that I use a lot.
I mean, I think one thing that’s been wonderful, I mean heartbreaking and wonderful to see over the past year, has been the fruits of the movement for black lives. The… like whoever knew that we would be in this moment of so many people wanting to learn about abolition.
Oh my god. I mean, right now I’m working with five other artists on a set of postcards for interrupting criminalization. They’re supporting 14 different organizers in 14 different cities who are working to defund the police. And we’re creating a set of postcards about imagination and abolition. Yeah. I mean, that’s what I live for.
Vieira: What do you want folks to know about your work that’s coming up?
Bazant: Well, I’m in a nice moment right now. Basically, I became freelance and it is exciting. I am starting to let people know I’m available to work with them. Whether the work is on generally envisioning liberation, illustration, cultural strategy, or how to ethically collaborate with artists.
About Micah Bazant
Micah Bazant is a visual artist who works with social justice movements to reimagine the world. They create art inspired by struggles to decolonize ourselves from white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, and the gender binary. They have exhibited nationally including at the Brooklyn Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and their work can be seen in protests, gay bars, abortion clinics, prison newsletters and classrooms all over the world. Bazant is a white, trans, anti-zionist jewish settler living on Ohlone land. They also love growing food, reading queer speculative fiction, and admiring caterpillars.
Check out more of Micah’s work at www.micahbazant.com