Get to Know RAGGA NYC, a Vital Platform for Queer Caribbean Artists
This weekend, BOOM is linking up with RAGGA NYC, a platform for queer Caribbean artists and allies founded by Christopher Udemezue (AKA Neon Christina) in 2016. In addition to throwing fab parties with musicians like Juliana Huxtable, SCRAAATCH, and Le1f, RAGGA has presented a thought-provoking group exhibition at the New Museum and organized a day of workshops and music with Boiler Room—all in the name of empowering, educating, and connecting their community.
Capturing the spirit of the project, RAGGA’s description on its website reads: “RAGGA NYC is a hybrid of ideas that began as late-night conversations over familial island roots, current social politics, empanadas vs. beef patties, pum pum shorts, scamming, and a longing for an authentic dancehall party that also provides a safe space for queer Caribbeans and their kin.”
Below, we caught up with Udemezue about the roots of RAGGA, memorable conversations from his interview series with Caribbean artists, and what to expect at this Sunday’s event.
(Image by Dan Gutt)
BOOM: Tell us more about the late night conversations that led to your decision/desire to start RAGGA.
Christopher Udemezue: I’ve been shacking my ass and stepping out in coco butter-drenched pum put shorts since I moved to NYC, so nightlife and carrying has always been a part of my life. Being #thegirlinthepicture—specifically that girl in the Sean Paul “Get Busy” video that walks into the basement party like the baddest—was always playing in my head as I often winded to house [music] on a dance floor full of people who didn’t look like me. I always caught my life but longed to make the fantasy in my head a reality, so I finally stop complaining and got to work.
These late-night conversations were with my brother Kenny Udemezue and my friends, on how we wanted more options from the NYC nightlife landscape. Were, and are, there spaces for the dolls and their allies to dance? Of course. But with all the Caribbean and queer people in NYC, it was bizarre that there was no Caribbean party dedicated to the dolls. So after some collaborative efforts and months of planning, RAGGA was born.
(Image by Jose Girona)
BOOM: How has your platform grown from its initial concept? How have your partnerships with institutions, like your New Museum residency and Boiler Room workshops, contributed to that development?
Udemezue: RAGGA grew with my curiosity to find more people from the Caribbean who had a story to tell, and the need to celebrate each other. My partnership with institutions like the New Museum and Boiler Room have continued to push me on what RAGGA is and what it stands for.
RAGGA often gets called a collective but it’s more so a project and platform. The beautiful people I feature in RAGGA don’t always work together, but this project does serve as a network, and a space for celebration and connection in an otherwise disjointed community. I often get messages from RAGGA family who meet out in the world [for the first time], being like, “Wait… I think I know you. Iz you my cousin?” Getting pictures of RAGGA family members kicking it and working together outside RAGGA gives me life and has been an outcome of RAGGA that I didn’t expect and love.
BOOM: What can we expect from RAGGA x BOOM?
Udemezue: For this Sunday’s RAGGA x BOOM, you can expect a ki for dolls by the dolls. 2017 was heavy but also a beautiful year that forced us all to ban together. I kept seeing articles online about how 2017 was trash, but I think it was mad cute. Is shit crunk? Yes—but I feel like it’s just made me grease my edges even more, pushed me away from fuck bois, and forced me to pull together with my sisters and make beautiful spaces like RAGGA. To celebrate the new year, cheers over some free drinks, check out some new work by DeVonn Francis, Martine Gutierrez and myself, listen to some Caribbean tunes, and catch up with old friends is the vibe. The more we are on the front lines fighting this world of hate, the more there is a need for us all to heal and ki with each other. It is a call for us to remember that we are here together. I gotchu girl and you got me sis.
BOOM: Part of RAGGA entails interviewing other Caribbean artists. Have you noticed any common themes or interesting contrasts emerging from the answers you get?
Udemezue: A couple of the common themes I’ve noticed from these interviews and my connections made to the RAGGA family are: the complicated relationship between the QPOC/Caribbean community and larger queer community; the pressure of racial conformity/disassociation to Caribbean roots; the continued effects of post-colonialism; how marginalized people have always cared for one another in the face of ongoing terror; and the power of connecting back to your ancestral roots, family, and elders for self-preservation.
(Image by Jose Girona)
BOOM: Could you link to a few interviews that have stood out and highlight what resonated with you?
Udemezue: Renée Stout, multimedia visual artist: “Part of the reason that I have been able to stay relatively sane through the political and social upheavals of the past several years… is that the spiritual beliefs of my ancestors have provided the grounding I need to be self-propelled, and to not get caught up in how others perceive me, or try to define who I am trough their perceptions. I know who I am and what I come from, and that firm sense of identity helps me to stay focused as I navigate this theatre of the absurd that this country has become. I see myself reflected in the spirits that carried my ancestors, and in that I find strength and purpose.”
Shanekia McIntosh, writer/curator: “I want to push expectations for what it means to be Jamaican or what it can look like. No one gets bothered about the destructive stereotypes of Caribbean peoples, not even black Americans. It frustrates me to no end, especially this new trend of white men using Jamaican culture as some signifier of taste and depth, and then getting praised for saving the genre or being somehow groundbreaking, when we know it’s nothing new.”
Maya Margarita Monès: “Much like most Dominican families, mine refrained from exploring our roots, leaving me with a cloudy sense of pride in a sort of racial limbo. It felt like I was facing a foggy mirror, with a deep yearning to see and embrace they who stood opposite of me. There was no specification on which box I should check in the race section at the beginning of my standardized test, which I couldn’t focus on; did I check the right box? There was no conversation at the dinner table on why 90 % of the Dominican population possesses African descent, yet 5% claims blackness, or why we treat our family in Haiti with such resentment.
My own people were willfully and proudly holding a steamer to my mirror, hoping I wouldn’t notice. But as I started to notice, the need to see who stood opposite of me in that mirror started to fade; I knew it was me, I knew who I was. My background *is* my life/work & always will be. It’s lit a fire in me to exist undeniably proud to be everything that I am—for those who need to see me be.”