On a small chunk of the Atlanta BeltLine, which spans seven miles of trail on the east and west sides of the city, is a mural of a black queer couple. They sit, leaning into each other in a loving embrace. Flowers sprout from behind them and an orange-yellow circle representing the warmth you feel from love is featured prominently at the center. The mural of Kenie and Dionne is part of #OurLove, a series of drawings and paintings of local queer couples of color by Guatemalan-born artist Maite Nazario.
At just 19, Nazario was among a group of artists selected to have their creations displayed in Art on the Atlanta BeltLine, an annual exhibition that brings hundreds of artists, events, and collaborations to the Atlanta BeltLine parks. Nazario was also one of several queer artists who participated in a mural called “We All Thrive with HIV,” which is part of the Center for Disease Control’s national campaign, “Start Talking. Stop HIV.”
Since moving to Atlanta in January and finding what she described as a “refuge for all queer people in the South,” Nazario has worked to create awareness and representation for queer love. The full-time advertising student, who is also part Puerto Rican, is queer herself.
“I’ve struggled with my sexuality and what that means for me all my life. When I moved to Atlanta I really got exposed to a lot,” Nazario tells HipLatina. “I already knew I was gay when I came here, but I didn’t have the community until I got really inspired by all the stories of my friends. That’s what really led me to want to create art about my community because I really had never seen queer couples portrayed in any media, but especially in fine art.”
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Hey everyone I have very exciting news! This summer I will be working with @atlantabeltlineart to bring to life my new series #Ourlove! I will be painting Dionne and Kenie in all their glory on the beltline’s trail! I am so excited to have the opportunity to represent our community and bring light to our stories of love and resilience. Thank y’all so much for all the support that you have always given my art, it means the world to me to be able to tell our stories through paintings and now murals. • • • #OurLove is a series of drawings and paintings of queer couples based in Atlanta. The intent of this series is to create awareness and representation for a kind of love that isn’t shown in mainstream media and show the abundant queer community that exists in Atlanta. I want to tell the stories of resilient queer people of color and the everyday resistance that we live through. I want to show how beautiful and worthy we are of love, happiness, and representation. This series is focused on exalting the beauty of queer love and the magic that is being a QTPOC. I want to show the beauty in our strength, the wisdom that comes from the obstacles, and the rebellion that is existing and loving ourselves. Every drawing has a QR code for an interview where they explain their relationship and talk about existing as a QTPOC. These couples are proof that even without our existence being seen as valid by society we can still thrive and find who we need to be and who we need to be with. Their stories of love and commitment are just as beautiful and as valid as straight couples. The stories we live aren’t represented anywhere in the media, especially not in fine art. I want to see more QPOC enjoying life, not only portrayed as tragedy. We are so worthy. We deserve to be seen. Our love matters.
Nazario said that when it comes to fine art, the paintings that are worshipped are heteronormative and Eurocentric. “I think there’s a lot of flaws in the way the art world worships quality art in general,” she said. “Because it is my medium and it is the world I exist in, not seeing any representation of myself and relationships I wanted to have really shook me. It made me feel like I didn’t exist.”
As a result, she created #OurLove, drawings that each include a QR code that leads to an audio interview conducted by Nazario herself. Two of the drawings in the series are of actual couples. In Kenie and Dionne’s interview, the couple spoke about being polyamorous and the challenges of being a queer couple. They also shared what they love about each other.
“Dionne, he exists in this place of unabashed gentleness and that comes through in the way he approaches people,” Kenie said. Dionne said Kenie is “truly a ride or ride ‘cause we will never die.”
“You’re one of the most encouraging people that I’ve ever met in my life,” Dionne told Kenie during the interview. “She believes in the people that she loves.”
Regarding recording her friends, Nazario said she wanted to give them a chance to tell their own stories and to open minds. “Have your relationship be your own,” she said. “There’s not a right or wrong way to love, it is just how I think.”
To learn more about Nazario and her work, visit maitenazario.com.