Thursday, July 19, 2018

Zoe Leonard | I Want a President

Zoe Leonard
I Want a President
Mexico City, Mexico: Gato Negro, 2017
[32] pp., 10.5 x 8 cm., paperback
Edition size unknown

A small Risograph book with the text of Zoe Leonard's now-imfamous I Want a President, one line per page.  Written in 1992 and originally intended for an LGBT magazine that folded, the text for I Want A President was instead photocopied and distributed as "something like a pre-internet meme -- something shared, copied, and re-interpreted starting way before most Americans had internet connections at home" [Vice Magazine].

The work was given a second life when feminist genderqueer collective LTTR founded by Ginger Brooks Takahashi, K8 Hardy and Emily Roysdon produced a postcard version in 2006, including them in their fifth annual art journal.

In October 2016, a month before election day, High Line Art installed a large version of the poem, measuring 20 feet by 30 feet, on a pillar underneath The Standard Hotel on the High Line, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan (below). Images of the text went viral at that time.

Leonard's manifesto has been translated by artists and writers around the world, as recently as last month, in advance of the Mexican elections. In a film by Adinah Dancyger, HIV positive performance artist and rapper Mykki Blanco recites the poem, which can be seen on Youtube, here.

The full text is as follows:

“I want a dyke for president. I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place   where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to AIDS, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no air-conditioning, a president who has stood in line at the clinic, at the DMV, at the welfare office, and has been unemployed and laid off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown. Always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker. Always a liar, always a thief, and never caught.”

The recent edition is from a series of mini-Manifestos published by Gato Negro, out of Mexico City. For more information, visit the publisher's website, here.

“Although written 24 years ago, Zoe’s piece seems even more relevant and urgent today, given the current political and social climate. It’s a text that oscillates between a heartfelt confession and a militant manifesto, between poetry and politics. It’s very moving and so deeply personal. I think it will really affect many people on the deepest emotional level.”

- Cecilia Alemani, High Line Art curator

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