In the new world order, mired in pandemic, most social interactions have been formatted to the screen. After indulging and equally being force-fed a full spread of endless video conferencing, for the first time in a while, it was refreshing to be physically lost—knowing that once I found my bearings I would be sitting in person with multi-disciplinary artist Kalup Donte Linzy. Raised in Central Florida and a product of Gen X’s baby busters, a generation that was amongst the last connective tissues to the early stages of the Information Age, Linzy uses his erudition of American daytime television, southern aesthetics, and pop culture to have comic, yet challenging dialogue around the infamous threesome: race, class, and sexuality. It was not long after moving to New York City that Linzy would be participating in a group exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2005. That exhibition would lead to Linzy’s permanent mark in collections of The Whitney, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and MoMA. Linzy’s talents were not limited to the blocks of Museum Mile but extended to Hollywood, television, and fashion, having appearances on General Hospital and collaborating with the likes of actor James Franco and doyenne Diane Von Furstenberg. Our dialogue explored ancestral acknowledgment, paid homage to 90’s Golden Age films such as B.A.P.S., and the impact of Tulsa’s haunting black history. We spoke about the importance of print, tactile experiences, archiving, and sorted through reasons for his visible hiatus from the contemporary art scene. In addition to the gift of his new album Paula Sungstrong Legend Recordings, we were left with the suggestion to exercise grace with ourselves and those around us.

JAMES: This is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the so-called emancipation of slaves in this country, of African peoples. When you woke up this morning in Tulsa, what were you thinking about?

KALUP LINZY: Some mornings I open the shades and it’s sunny, and I do it to get some vitamin D. When I opened my shades this morning, it was raining. I was like, “It’s raining outside?” Then I said, “Oh gosh. I hope this is a divine intervention with some help from the ancestors.” That was my thought, that hopefully, with the weather not being so sunny, it won’t get too wild. 

I believe in God and Jesus and Buddha and all those things, but I also believe in the spirits of the ancestors and that they do watch over us. I call upon them sometimes. I spent a couple of nights, like a week or so, not being able to sleep. I questioned and wondered if there were ancestral spirits keeping me awake to deal with it. I went to a Greenwood’s project meeting, and they were talking about the mass graves. They said, “People around here are literally dancing on their graves.” I was like, “Gosh. I don’t want to be dancing on someone’s grave.” When you walk out of my apartment on that street you can see some of the businesses that were destroyed; they have all these plaques. When I first moved to Tulsa, I knew about the Tulsa Riots that’s now called a massacre, but I hadn’t studied it in detail. I feel it’s my duty to keep them in remembrance, moving forward. We can’t change the past, but we can remember the past, come together, and move forward in productive ways. 

JAMES: I want to go back to how we remember those ancestors. The nostalgia of listening to Keys of Our Heart and being a gay, Black man from the South amongst other gay Black men from Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, watching your work, was comical. It was endearing. It was powerful because I could see myself, my aunts, and my grandmothers. 

Let’s talk about the connection from your past that you have to your present. One of the gentlemen we work withBill Ferris, is a preeminent scholar of Southern history. Bill always says “if you scratch hard enough, you can always find some Southern roots.” We don’t have to go too deep with you, because you’re from Clermont, Florida. Correct?

KALUP LINZY: I was born in Clermont, raised in Stuckey, a small, rural town.

JAMES: Tulsa is emblematic of so many other points of Black capitalism. There’s a couple called Sally and James Townsend in Clermont, who started the first AME church, and the first school for African-Americans. Towns like Rosewood, Florida have experienced destruction similar to the Tulsa massacre.

KALUP LINZY: That’s not too far from where I grew up, maybe an hour and a half. The Ocoee Massacre, which nobody is talking about, is closer to Clermont. They’re both the suburbs of Orlando and the Groveland Four. I went to Groveland High School.

We got that whole retelling growing up. The Klan actually came to Stuckey and The National Guard was sent for a week. My family gathered up all the kids and got them out. My grandmother was telling me one day how the Klan used to ride around Stuckey on horses and just harass them. I was so surprised. I don’t know if she saw the look on my face or it was her own anxiety that was coming back up, but she stopped talking. I had one uncle, her brother, who would never talk about any of it. The newspaper always tried to interview him and he would never talk. My grandmother’s oldest brother was a civil rights activist and a pastor of St. John’s Missionary Church in Orlando. He was always talking about it and making sure we knew those stories and knew that history. My aunts, grandmother, and all of them were a whole part of that 1949 Groveland Four Raid. That’s what they call it. A lot of the white people there don’t want to talk about it. They’re just like, “Can we please move on?” I have had that with me my whole life. Although I don’t overtly say it in my work, I have always been completely aware of that type of racism.

JAMES: These stories are frightening. What does that do to the imagination of a creator like you? Does it seep into your work in some way?

KALUP LINZY: In the ’90s, in undergrad, I did documentaries. One of the reasons why I did all of the voiceovers with different people of different races and cultures is because I was exploring language early on. It doesn’t matter what your skin color is, your language, or your syntax. All of that develops based on the environment you’re raised in. It has nothing to do with the color of your skin. You can turn your back, then hear someone talking, turn around and sometimes they’re white. You’re like, “Okay, why does she or he sound like that?” They’re not even trying to be a hip-hop version or of the hip-hop influence, so to say. 

I was thinking about that because in college, doing all the critiques and that sort of thing, I was making work that was surface and superficial at one point. I was doing the family documentaries and stuff. My family and some of the professors were like, “That stuff is kind of interesting.” Then some people said, “Kalup, the performance stuff is a little bit more interesting,” because I guess in the ’90s, we did have a lot of that. We had the Rosewood movie. Everybody was wearing kente cloth. We were more concerned about Black-on-Black violence than we were about police brutality, even though it was still happening, but that’s just what we were focused on at the time. My work went more performative, but I was always trying to stay aware of cultural and race relations. 

People have asked me if I will ever explore some of the overt racism that happens in the art world. As Da Art World Might Turn, one of the pieces where it’s dealing with the storyline of Dick is an actual representation of the friends I’m surrounded by in Florida, but I think the work can still reach people by having the majority of those characters be white. It’s a universal thing, they will likely be open to that whole conversation. I don’t want to be too overt with some stuff where people end up not being able to receive the message. That’s one reason why it’s cast like that. 

I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate some of the Black Lives Matter stuff. What about those artists who have spoken up? I’m thinking of a character, an artist that has spoken up in the past, and his whole career was ruined because nobody would listen. So where is that artist now? Does that career get revived? Why, when our white male, straight artists burn down something or get away with doing something really crazy, it’s sexy, but then if a Black artist does it, it’s repulsive? I’m thinking about the politics of it. That’s one way I’m thinking of some storylines in season four of As Da Art World Might Turn because I do feel like we’re in a revolution. I don’t see it ever not being in my work, but when it comes to dealing with it overtly and in more obvious ways, because I’ve always been subtle, I’m not quite sure. I don’t know if that would take away from my approach to it or not. 

JAMES: The art industry is a billion-dollar industry. Art is also a form of protest. Especially during the 1950s, with the Black arts movement that largely originated in places like Chicago and New York City, by outsider artists or artists that were not formally trained, and artists who were activists. With Black Lives Matter being at the helm of the movement, at least visibly, you see a lot of these artists addressing themes about race, sexuality, and gender. Do you feel, because there is now a value add, this type of artwork is selling at such a high rate, being a Black artist and talking about Black oppression is the trend? Do you think all of the art that’s depicting Black rage and oppression is authentic? Or do you think it’s been co-opted and commodified?

KALUP LINZY: You’re going to get me in trouble. I’ve actually been conflicted because I always question myself, which is why I put myself in my workI don’t want to be making money off somebody else’s pain. If I’m going to explore that, then I need to be in there talking about some of the stuff that’s personal to me, because I do think people are making money off Black issues. I just hope the artists and the majority of the white dealers that are making that money are supporting the communities in other ways. On one hand, if it’s our pain then we have a right to exploit that, but I don’t think we’re the only ones exploiting that. It is trendy. It’s bad to say from that perspective, but it is. 

I’m conflicted, I’m torn, which is why now I’m looking to open an art house here in Tulsa in 2021 through art integration grants with the Tulsa Artists Fellowship to bring artists here. All artists won’t necessarily be Black or gay or female, but it’ll definitely be the majority. It’ll be giving artists a platform where they’ll get a stipend, get to stay here, and hang out. That’s my social practice project, to give back to my community because again, I mined my own pain and also the pain of Black culture in my work. Although my work, it’s not always selling at high pricesI get a lot of grants. I became aware of that. I think a lot of those like Carrie Mae Weems. She is continuously making sure the community is being fed. I think if we follow her model, we’ll be contributing something positive. 

I can’t speak for all those other artists, but I do think it’s something we all should be aware of and be talking about, but not where we kill all the Black artists’ careers. Like when disco was outselling rock music and then they burned all the disco records in stadiums. We don’t want that to happen either. We do have to be careful about how we explore it. Not all Black people have grown up in that trauma, and not all Blacks in this country were slaves either. When you go back to the African slave trade, there were Africans that helped operate the slave trade. I don’t know if I would’ve been better off in Africa as a Black queer person. Although I know the more research I do there were eras where being gay was accepted in Africa in some cultures, so I don’t know when that switched and why. I’m conflicted about a lot of it, just because it’s all such a mess. When you get to really digging and pulling back the layers, I’m like, “Gosh, we are in such a mess.” I don’t know where we are going to land, but forgiveness is probably going to have to be the biggest thing for us to move on because we are so deep in it.

JAMES: I know we’ve struggled in this country as it relates to the movement. I think about the Black Panther Party, and much of its demise was because of the mistreatment of Black women, especially by our community. I think of Bayard Rustin, who almost lost the March on Washington because he was an openly gay Black man who was not afraid of expressing his sexuality. You talk about Black-on-Black crime, and I think about how the people that heckle you the most can be your own. Largely, the movement has been really focusing on the murder and the social rape of Black men and Black masculinity. In some regards, Black women haven’t had that similar place of focus. I wonder how knowing that makes you feel. You’re talking about forgiveness, even though some of the people we have to fight for are like, “You’re a faggot. You’re a sissy. You’re this.” I want to know your thoughts on being a gay Black man. Do I go back and defend the people who haven’t always protected me? That’s a question that I think I have for a lot of our Black creators and activists, because, and I want to be clear, what has happened is wrong and it is an injustice and we do need to fight.

KALUP LINZY: I don’t know if I have a real answer, because I often feel like the work I do in the art world is to get accepted by my audience. I look out, and it’s a majority of white people. Sometimes white straight couples. Some people say, “They’re just fetishizing you, they’re fetishizing Blackness,” and blah blah blah. To be truthful, not to put any type of negative shadow over my family, but when I started to feel like my work was going in this direction I sat my aunt (a preacher) and uncle (an evangelist) down and just said “This is the direction my work is going.” People had started writing about it. I said, “You’re going to hear something, see something, I’m telling you it’s my work and it’s the direction I’m going. I haven’t cracked up,” because I knew they didn’t know me as those visuals I was presenting. I also stopped going to church and told my aunt, “I just can’t be in there and leave without feeling bad.” I was one of those young teenagers who played the piano and shouted all over the church. I know the Spirit is a real thing. My aunt had always encouraged me to go to a Unitarian church. I go and I do stuff in the community, but you’re not going to find me trying to lead in certain spaces, because I just cannot pretend like I’m not gay or like I’m not queer.  I’ll go and show up for something, but I don’t know if I’ll ever take certain leadership roles. Here in Tulsa, this is the Bible Belt. I don’t know the people here. So I’m going to do the Art House, but it’s going to be geared towards the art community. All Black people are welcome, but I just wait to see who’s going to show up. That’s sad to say, but I don’t want to be hurt and beat-up on and treated like I got the cooties because of my sexuality. The truth is, a lot of our Black leaders in terms of artists, like Zora Neale, James Baldwin, so many of them were queer.

JAMES: Langston. 

KALUP LINZY: They were just erased, not just Black leaders, but some of white culture erased their sexuality as well. I’m just not into that part, erasing people’s sexuality and their humanness, which is their queerness as well. So I contribute and allow those who gravitate towards my work to do that because no matter how much you contribute, there are always going to be those who want to lay hands and pray for you. I believe in prayer, but I do not need you trying to do an exorcism on me.

JAMES: How would you characterize the queer community here in Tulsa, especially as it relates to Black folks?

KALUP LINZY: I’ve seen some queers, but again, in the arts part. It doesn’t seem to be such an issue. The gay club is right smack in the middle of downtown with straight people. Of course, this is everywhere though. You go to the queer clubs now, the straight people are in there with their family members, or there’s a guy is trying to get this girl with his gay.

JAMES: It’s so confusing.

KALUP LINZY: Because he knows she’s hanging out with her gay friend. I’ll never forget the bookstore that I live above, and this was last year or earlier this year, they did a drag queen reading hour with the kids. I guess some people in Tulsa decided they were going to get together and protest it. Then everybody brought their kids to the thing. For it to be the Bible Belt, they’re not that homophobic. I haven’t gone into the Black churches here. When we had open studios it fell on gay pride, and actually, this white couple came to my studio. They were into my work. He was like, “Oh yeah, we’ve been talking about masculinity and all this sort of thing in our church.” Mind you the painting has a penis poking out. This man started talking about this painting and turns out he was a pastor of a Unitarian church. It was the best conversation I had that whole day.

JAMES: You give me these Sade vibes a little bit because I don’t know what fountain you found, but you always are youthful. You haven’t aged at all. At the magazine we’re always yelling about, “There’s no such thing as movie stars anymore.” Everyone’s on IG. Everybody is recording themselves being in the bathroom, getting up, no face, nothing. There’s not that mystique. There was something magical about having people be a little bit distant and not so accessible. You’ve worked with celebrities but you still have this earnest spirit about you. Also, you’re not always out, but you’re always working; you’re always doing something. We just got the album that you handed us, and this is beautiful. I think we are living in an age where we are constantly barraged by creatives’ work all the time. “This is my process. This is what I’m doing. This is the farmhouse in the middle of Wyoming that I’m working at, and stay tuned,” but that’s not really what you give. There was a point when Thomas Lax and Naomi Beckwith curated that show at Studio Museum in Harlem, you were getting a lot of buzz, but it seemed like you intentionally decided to go into your own creative hole and to really focus on the work. 

KALUP LINZY: I remember people were trying to get me to get on Instagram early on. I was like, “Gosh, I just got on Facebook.” It took me a long time to accept Facebook over Myspace. I feel like I can never keep up with how that was going. Even with YouTube, I wasn’t trying to be a YouTube star. I was putting videos on YouTube to send to curators and writers as an extension of my work, but then the blogs picked up on it. I remember when I got my YouTube account, I actually charted as one of the most-followed people. This was right at the beginning. I got over 1,000 follows in one day or something like that. I did go through a period when I was oversharing. I realized I didn’t want my business out there like that. Why does somebody need to know what time I take a shower or when I brush my teeth? Still, I can’t even get certified on Instagram. Something about the public interest or something. I guess I do understand that thing where everybody wants to be a star, but I always believe in having some mystique. I’m glad to know that it’s still there because I’ve always patterned myself or thought about myself in relationships to the Joan Crawfords and the Bette Davises, where if nobody’s going to do shit for you then you fucking do it yourself. You create your own images and personas and put that out into the world. Everybody doesn’t need access to every single thing about me. I do believe that in order for my work to resonate, my personal life doesn’t need to be over-told. It’s been tricky, but then there are times when, gosh, I wish I had more followers because I could have more attention on a certain project. I don’t know if that’s what people want in our culture right now, because even what’s the thing called, TikTok?

JAMES: TikTok, that’s it.

KALUP LINZY: I uploaded two videos on TikTok, and then all these videos came through, and some are interesting, but as I was telling a friend, your popularity for a video lasts like a day. Is that really resonating with people? I’ve always tried to create work that was layered and resonated with people. I don’t know how to find myself in that, to be honest, because I’m not going to make a soap opera video every day. People suggested that back in the 2000s, like, “You should make an episode every day.” I was like, “It’s not a daytime soap.” This is me thinking about our cultures and environments and what’s going on, and it needs to be layered, and so I don’t think you can do that in a daily episode and have things layered and really resonate. People need to watch it and let it sit with them. That sitting and peeling back all the layers usually doesn’t happen in one afternoon. Sometimes it takes years for people to fully process something, like The Color Purple. I still don’t know if I have experienced that in every way it could be experienced. Earlier this year I went and saw it on a big screen for the first time, and it felt like a completely different experience from me watching it either on my computer or the TV.

JAMES: I think a milestone anniversary just came up.

KALUP LINZY: Exactly. They actually replayed it in theaters, in Art House theaters, with TCM. 

JAMES: Yeah, because I didn’t have the experience of watching it in a theater. I watched it at home. It’s interesting how as you get older, which is a blessing, the movies that were in your generation start to be on Turner Classic Movies.

KALUP LINZY: Exactly. I talk to some of the younger kids, in their 20s, and some of their favorite movies are…What’s that movie by Hype Williams?

CREW: Belly.


CREW: Belly.

KALUP LINZY: Yeah. That’s their favorite movie. Then B.A.P.S. They all were entertaining. 

JAMES: It’s a classic.

KALUP LINZY: With the new generation, it’s just interesting how things move culturally. We do have a lot of Black movies now, but we had our Black movies in the ’90s. I feel like we had quite a bit because we were showing up for the theaters like crazy. I remember we would always go as a group. They wouldn’t get nominated for awards, but it’s not to say they didn’t deserve the award, because Halle Berry should’ve got an Oscar nomination for that movie when she gave that baby away. The one where she put the baby in the dumpster.

JAMES: Losing Isaiah.

KALUP LINZY: Yeah, Losing Isaiah. I was like, “She should’ve got an Oscar nom.” They was like, “Really?” Then she ended up winning the Oscars years later. I was like, “Why didn’t people get that performance?” 

I’ve been going back and watching independent Black films that were mainstream. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, these films were not talked about.”

JAMES: When you passed the album around, it was a similar feel to how we feel about our book. The book itself is an artifact. It’s an experience. You get to touch the pages. There’s something about being in a space that you don’t have to look at a screen or plug into something, but you can escape in the same way. I just want to know, how you found something that you can hold and touch as important in your work? How do we preserve our culture? Have you given any thought to what happens to Kalup’s work in 100 years you’re not around and someone else wants to look that up? Could you give us some thoughts about where and how you would like to see your work stored?

KALUP LINZY: I remember it was a period, and probably what you might be talking about earlier when you said my rise and then being quiet, but I remember being upset because people always seemed like they didn’t want to put me in print. They were always trying to put everything I was doing online. They used to suggest things like, “We’re not going to do the magazine. We’re going to do the online thing.” I’m like, “Do you all realize the internet can disappear at any time?” It can be shut down at any moment. I’m still not understanding why people are not getting that. 

When COVID-19 happened, I didn’t realize we were going to be dependent on the internet this much, but I still think it could be shut down. I love being in print. So I guess I should just start going through and printing those out because sometimes you’ll go look for a website and it no longer exists. Then all of a sudden you’re gone. I hope I continue to be in print, for those who read this. Stop trying to just put me online because I like my work being a part of the museum collections. I know people have a problem with institutions, but I love my work being exhibited in a museum or a gallery. We’re actually going to start an art collection with my art house. When I die, I’m hoping that it will either be turned into a museum or the work that I collect, and even my work, would be gifted to a museum or an institution so I’m not lost forever.

JAMES: Maybe we’ll have a museum by then.

KALUP LINZY: That’ll be good. We have to preserve our cultures. We have to. Digital and online is great, but again, you have to keep in your mind that it can all be shut down. I also hear they have clouds where everything is stored, so nothing is really lost, but I don’t know, a lot of websites that I’ve been on are gone. I still have those magazines in my studio. Those could be artifacts that document my existence here. I’ve always kept that stuff as much as I could. 

JAMES: I have to ask you what you’re working on now. Has that been challenging for you? There is this pressure for people who are writers and painters and performers, that when you’re in your bubble, this is when you should be writing your masterpiece. Coming out of COVID-19, and coming out of hiding from brutality in our country, you need to create this work that’s largely informed by what’s going on. Personally, it’s just been difficult because you are really trying to figure out if your family’s okay, if you’re okay. That has been tough. Then there is that pressure of having free time and needing to create something. 

KALUP LINZY: I was in the middle of doing the remaining videos for Paula Sungstrong Legend Recordings. The video for Long Ding Dong Blues basically shut down. We were going to shoot it at the Cellar Dweller. Our studios were shut down, so I was working from my apartment. I haven’t been able to get that much physical work done. I think I’ve been in my studio for maybe two to three weeks now. I finished touching up a collage. I have a feature film script I’m reworking that hopefully could be shot when I get the art house. That’d be the majority of the set for it to be cost-effective. I don’t know if the feature film is going to be a masterpiece or not. I’m hoping to get back to the Paula Sungstrong videos. I’m dealing with some other stuff. I found out a year or so ago that I have high blood pressure and there was some kidney damage. So I literally changed my diet and I’ve been eating healthy and doing my follow-up tests. During COVID-19 I’ve been jogging around my block. I’m jogging and sweating, and I go check my mailbox, and I get a letter from the hospital. I’m like, “Oh gosh, here comes another bill, another bill.” Jesus, all the bills. Then it’s like, “Oh, thank you for choosing St. Johns Hospital for your stage three stable chronic kidney disease.” I was like, “Wait, what?” I knew I had some kidney damage, but the tests and all the follow-ups have been going on for almost a year, and they weren’t making it a huge deal. Then all of a sudden, I’m online researching, seriously, chronic kidney disease. That’s how I’ve been spending some of my time.


KALUP LINZY: I found out Tina Turner had it. Then her partner gave her one of his kidneys. She was 80. I think Stevie Wonder had something going on with his kidneys as well. I was doing a lot of research. I haven’t been able to effectively write, because between thinking about underlying conditions, what my limitations are, and not having access to my studio, I’m still thinking about how I can move forward in a way that’s productive and less stressful for me. That’s why I’m focusing on making sure the art house happens, so I can have a space where I can create that’s not as stressful as grinding the pavement while giving back to the community. I’ll still be in and out of New York and Florida. Again, I don’t know if I can hit that pavement, be in the concrete jungle like I used to, and be okay with the stress. Now I have to eat healthily and minimize my stress. 

JAMES: That’s why we’re all in small towns. 

KALUP LINZY: As Blacks, I realized we don’t always know what’s going with us. I had zero idea because I am so used to stress. It’s like, “Oh, my kidney was failing? I thought I was just stressed out and moody, being a bitch. “It’s like, no, bitch, your kidneys aren’t working right.”

JAMES: That’s the word. That’s not even something that I think we do on our own. That’s something that’s passed down to us…


JAMES: …because that’s how we saw our moms and our dads. I used to get so upset when I heard white critics criticizing the Cosby Show on TV because they’re like, “How can a Black mother who’s a lawyer and a doctor who’s running a private practice have kids and a house that’s clean?” I’m like, “Have you heard of the Black family?” There are people who do it with a lot less. That’s just how we are. Especially the silent generation, the boomer generation, there was this sense of not complaining and not even going to see a therapist; or even being a doctor and not going to the doctor.

KALUP LINZY: I talk to my therapist at least two to three times a month now.

JAMES: What do you think is the next thing that our ancestors would want us to be liberated from?

KALUP LINZY: Self-hatred. Gosh, I re-watched Roots in quarantine before all the shooting started. I was just so happy they were off the plantation. I just remember when Kunta Kinte was brought, and you had the slaves that are already African American viewing themselves differently from the actual Africans, like, “Oh, so you African, you think you better, you got all this. “It’s because they didn’t know. They just didn’t know who they were or where they came from. I think some of us still don’t. We still have this self-hatred for ourselves. I think the ancestors would want us to love ourselves and love each other, because I don’t think we’re all the way there. I think love will transcend. I still think it transcends all. Anytime I find that loving feeling in myself, a lot of other things just fall to the wayside. That’s what I think they would want. I think they’re trying to teach us that.

KALUP LINZY is an American video and performance artist born in Stuckey, Florida. He received his MFA from the University of South Florida and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a grant from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, Creative Capital Foundation grant, a Jerome Foundation Fellowship, an Art Matters Grant, The Headlands Center for the Arts Alumni Awards Residency, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Film and Video, and is currently a Tulsa Artist Fellow. He is represented by David Castillo Gallery in Miami Beach, Florida.

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