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I have always found my body difficult to live in. It doesn’t feel like a part of me, but like a strange apartment that I did not choose and cannot leave; this tension manifests as an ever-present, buzzing discomfort that ranges from quiet and ignorable to deafening and all-consuming. In the process of coming to understand and identify myself as a non-binary trans person, I’ve made some sense of my discomfort, its source, and where to seek relief.
At times when residing in my body feels unendurable, I slip through the trapdoor of my practice and into my work, where I can build my reality into something that is a pleasure to exist in. I revisit places and experiences where I could not, or cannot, exist fully as myself and—through the process of making photographs—construct an alternate narrative that I can inhabit without fear, inhibition, or shame.
Though the act of imagination serves as a refuge from a painful reality, it is also a valuable tool that I can use to build a better one. My imagination informs my intuitive sense of what I want my body to look and feel like and allows me to picture the surrounding world as it could be; it restores my strength and my will to take action toward the ideals that I build upon within it.
I have never needed the restorative space that imagination provides, nor the paths to action it reveals, more than I do now. Perhaps you can relate to feeling stuck inside a place you cannot leave? Or, perhaps, to feeling trapped in a society founded on systemic oppression and racial injustice? Or, maybe you are not so much trapped in that society as paralyzed by your complicity in its systems of oppression?
When we take on the task of creating real social change, we are immediately confronted with, and hindered by, the limits of what we think or have been told is possible. The collective radical imagination offers a space where we can define our ideals beyond the confines of what seems possible at this moment. This is why generations of artists, activists, and oppressed communities have wielded their collective radical imagination to dismantle unjust systems, to protect and reclaim their histories, and to conceive of and work toward a world without oppression.
If we are White, we must also use radical imagination as a space to confront our unearned privilege, to recognize the benefits it grants us at the expense of marginalized people and communities, and to accept that our refusal to work through our present and historical roles as colonizers and oppressors upholds systems rooted in White supremacy.
The work of radical imagination entails drawing blueprints for the world we want. If we do this work, we can return to reality and find ways to start building.
Aleem Hurst is a queer artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Fixated on the corners and edges of domestic spaces and interiors, their work employs photography, sculpture, and immersive installation to consider what might be hiding within the unexceptional backdrop of everyday life. They received a BFA from Point Park University and have had their work included in spaces such as Sweetwater Center for the Arts, Silver Eye Center for Photography, Bunker Projects, and the CVA Clement Gallery at the University of Toledo.
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