In late 2008, Celeste Chan and her partner, Kali “KB” Boyce, got to talking about the Harlem Renaissance. “We were talking [about] folks like Langston Hughes, Gladys Bentley, and Bessie Smith,” Chan said. “They were really knocking down doors for creative intellectual freedom at the time. They were carving out a space for African-American voices and lives.”
Chan and Boyce are both artists, and are, as Chan described it “an intergenerational couple.” They each thought there needed to be a bridge spanning from the cultural histories of people of color to the emerging artists of today, young and old. “We felt really hungry for it,” said Chan. “Especially in the queer community, we’re so fragmented — especially across age groups. The community can really be enriched once we make those connections.”
And so they launched Queer Rebels, an arts production company focused specifically on queer people of color. In 2010, they put on their first event, Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance, which featured a “cabaret-style” lineup of multi-genre performances — spoken word, burlesque, staged readings, poetry, music, and experimental art — paying homage to the period of cultural and intellectual growth that brought the voice of the black experience in America to the fore and laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Era to follow. The result, Chan said, showcased the Bay Area’s truly diverse population of emerging and established queer black artists, but also drew a clear line from the past to the present.
The event continues this year with its fourth annual showcase, the first to include Oakland in part of its program. On Saturday and Sunday, July 6 and 7, join the Queer Rebels at the African American Art & Culture Complex (762 Fulton St., San Francisco) for a night of readings, blues, poetry, theater, and more from some of the Bay Area’s most trailblazing artists and performers. On Monday, July 8, head over to the New Parkway Theater (474 24th St., Oakland) for a screening of B.D. Women, a 1994 film that weaves together clips of black lesbians talking candidly about their sexual and racial identities as well as a dramatized love story set, perfectly enough, in the Harlem Renaissance.
Outside of their big annual showcase, the Queer Rebels keep busy with the national festival circuit and promoting other artists and events. But the Bay Area, said Chan, has a community particularly suited to spearhead the kind of cultural resurgence the Queer Rebels are looking to foster. “We’re more powerful the more we support each other,” said Chan. “Maybe that’s a particularly Bay Area thing — who knows!” 12:30 p.m., $6-$10. QueerRebels.com