Anything We Want to Be: Tourmaline’s Salacia
The artist’s film imagines riotous transwomen across history.
Tourmaline, Thomas Jean Lax
Jun 25, 2020
Tourmaline’s Salacia screened here June 25–July 6, 2020. The film is no longer available for streaming, but you can watch the filmmaker’s introduction below.
Who would have imagined that, during a global pandemic, 15,000 people would show up at the Brooklyn Museum for a liberation march holding signs with the refrain BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER as they quietly processed, dressed in white, a visual echo of the NAACP’s 1917 Silent Parade, in which 10,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue demanding an end to violence against Black people? Who would have imagined that Mary Jones—a Black transwoman and sex worker labeled a “man-monster” in a tabloid lithograph after she was incarcerated in the 1830s—would appear a century and a half after her death in artist-writer-activist Tourmaline’s film Salacia?
Such is the romance of fantasy and speculative fiction; such is the everyday stuff of Black life. In Salacia, Mary Jones (played by Rowin Amone) is transported from Manhattan’s Soho, where she lived before being placed on trial for stealing a man’s wallet, to Seneca Village, a contemporaneous community of free Black and Irish immigrant landowners once located in what we now call Central Park, between 82nd and 89th Streets. When the City destroyed the village through eminent domain, all traces of the settlement were lost to history. Tourmaline’s re-placement is not only a feat of imagination—as Jones is not known to have found refuge in Seneca Village—but a political feat of class solidarity: Then, as now, women accused of thieving and making their money through sex were not always welcome by landowners, whatever their race.
During a dreamlike sequence in which Jones is seen behind bars, Salacia moves forward in time. A shot of the water that surrounds Castle Williams—the fortification on Governor’s Island, just south of Manhattan, where Jones was imprisoned—transitions to the lapping banks of Manhattan’s West Side and archival footage of Sylvia Rivera, who once stayed at the Christopher Street Piers, a refuge for queer and trans homeless folks before the gentrification and displacement that occurred under the Giuliani administration. Rivera cofounded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a mutual aid and activist group for homeless youth. In the video excerpted in Salacia (which Tourmaline first encountered when she was director of membership services at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a legal services organization for low-income trans and gender nonconforming people in New York), Rivera laughs, gossips, and kikis with friends as she reflects on the Hudson River. An interviewer records her saying, “Every time you look at that damn river and meditate on the river you got to keep fighting, girly, ’cause it’s not time for you to cross the River Jordan.” As she analogizes the Hudson with the Old Testament’s journey from slavery to freedom, as well as the New Testament site of Jesus’s baptism, death, and resurrection, the video returns to Jones and those who remain warehoused with her, as if Rivera were speaking backwards in time, across the river to her foresister.
(1) Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 12 no. 2(June 2008): 1–14.
Written, Directed, Produced by
Executive Produced by
Christopher James Murray
Director of Photography
Luce Capco Lincoln
Original Music Contributed by
Working for Black Trans Futures
An incomplete list of resources and organizations for combatting racism and transphobia, and supporting justice, safety, and equality
Jun 23, 2020
Ricerche: two, a work-in-progress by Sharon Hayes
The artist shares a video that asks questions about how and why people come together in public.
Sharon Hayes, Lanka Tattersall
Jun 17, 2020