“I think sexiness is not just about the clothes you wear or don’t wear, but it’s about how you talk—the intention behind certain things. It can be a voice, a movement, you can feel sexy dancing with a hoodie on, or wearing lingerie with your man in bed.”
LaQuann Dawson thinks about sex, but the erotic elements of his work happen naturally. “I feel sexy when I don’t need to second-guess what I’m saying,” says the Brooklyn-based photographer, filmmaker, community organizer, visual artist, stylist and designer.
“I get to explore and celebrate my body in my work and videos, in a selfie, going back and forth with my masculinity and femininity and see how they compliment each other,” explains Dawson. “The erotic part of my work is a big part of how I express and protect myself by sharing my body in a way that does not offer much physical harm.”
Dawson is intentional about his jack-of-all trades approach to creativity, in which he explores the wellness, desire, healing, and celebration of Black queer people. Having moved to New York City in 2016 from Elyria, Ohio, building and maintaining a sense of community has been key to his creative practice and success. There’s not only the camaraderie of seeing queer Black and Brown folks walk down the streets of Brooklyn in heels, but safety in knowing you are not an outcast in the city.
“I feel different versions of safety in New York, and that has a lot to do with the community I built. Since the day I moved, I’ve built up a bubble where I feel safe enough to be as flamboyant as I want to be because I know there are Black queer people who are interested in the longevity of our lives,” says Dawson.
Dawson was introduced to Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative (MOBI) in 2018. Through programming and events, MOBI connects queer people of color while promoting wellness and building community. “With my partner at the time, we created a documentary where we asked Black queer men about love,” he says of his first documentary, A Study of Him, that screen at MOBIfest. “I thought to myself, I’m finally bringing healing to people.”
An early campaign titled “We Are MOBI” saw Dawson interview 40 people on topics of love, needs, and wants. This running thread of raw, unfiltered conversation extends to a digital series he created called MOBItalks, documenting the intersectionalities of queer experiences.
This is where Dawson believes larger media companies miss the mark when it comes to celebrating queerness in advertising. Centering the narrative on individuals deemed exceptional suggests that Black and Brown folks deserve to be uplifted only when they fit a mold determined by the mainstream media. In this attempt by advertisers to be inclusive, the wider community remains excluded.
“The centre of all my creativity is celebration, humanizing Black and queer people, offering them a light that tells them they are allowed to be a person with flaws,” notes Dawson. “We can be fetishized in the media, [there isn’t] room for us to be soft or make mistakes. What I try to do with my photography and filmmaking is offer a space where [we] can just exist.”
For a multidisciplinary creative, it can be daunting to grapple with the concept of legacy—implying a single mark of success. “My ultimate goal is to be happy,” he says, laughing at the Beyoncé reference. “With my photography and community organizing, I’m trying to practice ways of healing. Sometimes, I’m acting as a guinea pig to see what works for me, then giving away those ways of healing to others in my community.”
“I’ve tried to box myself in to find a way to exist in a way that feels less exhausting,” he adds, “but I want people to remember that if we take care of each other and make space for each other, we will be good. That is the most important mission of my work.