Mx.Enigma: Speaking Their Truth and Becoming an Artist
Mx.Enigma, aka Mx. Je'Jae Daniels, (they/them & queen) is a nonbinary transfemme of color and multidisciplinary artist, writer and media maker. They graduated Cum Laude from Brooklyn College in 2017 with a B.A in Media/Film and a concentration in gender race and sexuality. Their work focuses on the intersections of queerness, American culture & public perception. Their work has been featured in cultural institutions including MOMA, MAD, Bronx Museum, Tribeca Film Festival, HBO & BRIC media, amongst others. Mx.Enigma made history in Summer 2018 as the first nonbinary host on an American public TV network, in the first season of Queer Justice! A human rights talk show focusing on global queer liberation. Learn more at www.behance.net/MxEnigma and follow them on Instagram.
Featured photographs MUA credit: Simple, Makeup by Shaindy Weichman
At an early age, I was being fed lies of what it means to be an artist—which identities are of value, and what is my worth compared to white, male, straight artists. As I got older, I realized how systems of oppression and privilege work in America, and I got sick and tired of not seeing women, queer/trans, POC and other related identities in the established art, media, entertainment, and publishing worlds. I also was led to believe if you don't have money, connections, or the means to market yourself there is no point in attempting to create work. I believed that I had to wait to see the progress and representations of the human experience portrayed—rather than believe that I had the power to start creating on my terms.
Over time, I realized that it is not only my duty as an artist to contribute to upholding the value of "unity through diversity" but that I am creating for myself, and not for someone else's approval, affirmation, or benefit. I am creating to be seen, to feel heard, to make room for other identities like me that are often told to hide who they are in order to thrive and be respected in our cisgender, binary, white supremacist world. My experience is more than valid and should be equally shared to the public.
I started out as a teenager, at the end of high school, seeking out any opportunity to promote and share my work with others. From one gallery to another, and one festival to another, and without having gone to art school, I didn't allow the naysayers, glass ceilings, and capitalism to interrupt my art process and the need to express myself as a form of resistance. I took every opportunity I could find to showcase my work and make as big an impact as possible. Being an artist isn't about your level of skills, or where you have been published—your work is a part of your soul and body, and with that, I have learned to bring out the artist in everyone. I always offer words of comfort to marginalized individuals: "you control your narrative; create for the sake of yourself and not others, and your experience is yours, 100% valid, and will provide you the healing others won't.”
All artists and creators are sharing themselves, their skin, and their consciousness; I focus a lot on work related to my identity because I am not represented enough. Ideally, we wouldn't have to live in a world in which we are labeled and defined as 'female artist, vs. black artist" or in my case a queer artist, but just be seen as an artist, among our global civilization.
For the past two years, I have been working on a project entitled "L'Chaim 2 Dykes," a truthful comedy humanizing the lives of five queer ex-Hasidic women who are struggling to gain custody of their children after leaving their communities. The project started when I began volunteering at Footsteps, the only organization in the United States which supports individuals who want to leave extreme religious upbringings and communities. I have become best friends with a bunch of queer women who empathized and shared my pain of growing up Orthodox Jewish and being ostracized for our queerness on top of many other aspects of our individualism. One woman, named Sheindy, lost her child in civil court to a custody battle, because her extremist community of Satmar Hasidic Jews have the resources, money, and legal experts to shame, excommunicate and discard anyone who questions their abusive authority. Instead of allowing individuals who seek independence, they silence them legally through civil courts, which intimidates others who might want to leave.
This past July, we did a table reading of Act I at Theatre of The Oppressed of the show and seeing Sheindy direct the actors and bring out the authenticity of the women and their stories, and seeing her smiling, crying, and being humanized made all the efforts of creating this theater piece worth it.
Next, I'm planning to do two residencies in New York—at the Trans Lab Theater and at Judson Arts Church. We hope to not only bring the play to the public but to also develop a TV series, entitled Marsha is the New Purple. It will explore and humanize the experiences of queer youth living through the shelter system and trying to thrive in this world. I'm hoping that the process of finding grants, connections, and venues to produce work won't be too exhausting. As a non-binary trans femme of color, someone who is typically tokenized in the media, art and fashion worlds and rarely paid properly, I am driven to access skills, resources, and guidance to explore my work and build my portfolio and eventually to become an art teacher to give back to others for what art has given me.
We are living in a time where the intersections of art and activism are needed now more than ever and people need to be visually reminded of the importance of empathy. I am deeply inspired by activist and model Munroe Bergdorf; by a nonbinary performer, writer, and activist Alok Vaid Menon; and by Augusto Boal, the founder of Theatre of The Oppressed, who inspired my artistic director Katy Rubin to open up her own Theatre of The Oppressed in Times Square. All of them and many more individuals have been unapologetic in being themselves, while also using their art to give voice to the injustices of the world.
I don't have one type of fashion/beauty icon as I enjoy both high fashion and street culture, as well as drag beauty queens and genderqueer artists. What is projected in the fashion media doesn't look like me or affirm my body size, gender, or skin color—nor can I afford it. I wear clothes that are femme, comfortable for my various disabilities like fibromyalgia and joint pain, and I'm a huge thrifter (and don't like to give away my secrets!).
My earliest memories of makeup were when I was a child, watching my mother prepare her face for the sabbath—both the beauty of her heart and her flawless Middle Eastern Glow. When I was in middle school, my mother and I had a ritual of painting my nails. But she always asked me to take it off before school. I hated always hiding and feeling ashamed of what made me feel special because of society's constructs around gender. Now 15 years later, I wear long acrylic nails and eyeliner and make a fashion statement wherever I go. I never enter a room looking bland.