Candy-colored objects are strewn on a crumpled mylar sheet that rests on a bright green lawn.

Aleem Hurst; queer bait (detail), digital scan of color negative, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

Invitation to Pretend

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.

A plastic toy sits on a carpet beside a potted plant and an armchair, all flooded in warm sunlight from a nearby window.
Aleem Hurst; Toy with Two Tails, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A bright blue water tower appears against a sky filled with white, fluffy clouds.
Aleem Hurst; Blair, 2020, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A bare lightbulb hangs from an unfinished ceiling composed of wooden beams and insulation.
Aleem Hurst; A Light in the Attic, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A ping-pong table and a green plastic chair are seen against a wood-paneled wall. A photograph of a clown holding balloons hangs high on the wall.
Aleem Hurst; Looking Good, Carol, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist

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 towards the ideals that I build upon within it.

A loon appears to float on top of a road whose surface is flooded. A traffic barricade stands in the background.
Aleem Hurst; Paper Loon, 2020, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
Candy-colored objects are strewn on a crumpled mylar sheet that rests on a bright green lawn.
Aleem Hurst; queer bait, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
Two red and green fish appear to be suspended in the branches of a tree a few feet away from one another.
Aleem Hurst; 2 Fish in Need of a Map, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist

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?

A hand supporting a large bag of colored marshmallows reaches through a skylight above a person who is lying on a mattress, shirtless, with their mouth open.
Aleem Hurst; put something in, 2020, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A crumpled sheet fills the floor in the corner of the room. The forearm of a hand holding a wad of medical tape reaches into the picture from the lower left
Aleem Hurst; chest tape, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A person who is naked except for white socks lies onfacedown on the carpet in the corner of an empty room.
Aleem Hurst; turning my room into a guest room, 2020, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A white electric fan and a white desktop lamp stand on a cluster of carpet samples in the middle of a grassy field.
Aleem Hurst; glamping, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
Two people lie with their torsos stretched over large exercise balls and their arms and legs touching a carpeted floor.
Aleem Hurst; rollie pollies in the sewing room, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A colorful beach towel appears to be caught on tall grasses in the middle of a field.
Aleem Hurst; Beach Ghost, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A burst and a small trail of white foam lie on a surface covered in shredded green plastic and brown, fallen leaves.
Aleem Hurst; Born Again Snake, 2020, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist

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 towards 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.

A hand wrapped in bandages and a splint reaches out to grab a bouquet that rests on a surface covered in AstroTurf.
Aleem Hurst; get well NOW, 2020, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A small pile of twigs or bark shreds sits on a neatly made white bedspread.
Aleem Hurst; Please Do Not Disturb, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A framed photograph of a woman wearing a billowing garment, a drinking glass decorated with colored vinyl, and the stiffened form of a brightly colored bird sit on a table in the corner of a sunlit room.
Aleem Hurst; In Memoriam, 2020, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
A red lollipop rests on a crumpled sheet of sparkling, metallic paper.
Aleem Hurst; sucker, 2020, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist
Thin strips of metallic golden metal or paper cover the tips of a clump of tall grasses in the middle of a field.
Aleem Hurst; Amber Waves, 2019, digital scan of color negative. Courtesy of the artist