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64-year-old trans woman creates art from behind bars. She's been in a men's prison for 27 years now.

'Even Flowers Bleed' is Diaz's first solo exhibition with nearly 10 years worth of her queer art on display to the general public for the first time.

64-year-old trans woman creates art from behind bars. She's been in a men's prison for 27 years now.
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Jamie Diaz has been creating beautiful art since 2013. A Mexican American trans woman, she has been incarcerated in a men's prison for the last 27 years. "Even Flowers Bleed" is a collection of still-life paintings of flowers in vases that serves as the inspiration for Diaz's debut solo art exhibition, according to NBC. There are blood stains on the thorns of the flowers. Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York will display nearly 10 years worth of her work. “Everything bleeds, everything feels pain,” Diaz, 64, said in a statement about the series. “We’re not the only ones … even flowers can hurt. That’s just part of nature.” 

Diaz grew up in Houston, though she was born in the Chicago neighborhood of Waukegan, Illinois, according to her website. Since she was a child, she has been making art, and as a young adult, she worked at a tattoo parlor in Texas. She was given a life sentence for aggravated robbery in 1996 and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice states that she will be eligible for parole in 2025.

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The exhibition also includes portraits of Diaz and Gabriel Joffe, her friend and co-curator. Queer themes or symbolism are present in the majority of her work. Joffe says that they think the exhibition will be a pivotal point for Diaz. Joffe, while volunteering for Black and Pink, a group that advocates for prison abolition, started writing letters to Diaz in 2013.

They anticipate that the program would highlight that Diaz has a network of friends and will keep giving back to the community even after being allowed parole in 2025. "Even Flowers Bleed" is Diaz's first solo exhibition and the first time her queer art will be on display to the general public. It's another step toward her larger ambition of building the world's biggest collection of queer art. “It feels like an important moment for her work and for her process of hopeful re-entry,” they said. “A story like Jamie’s could very easily be told through a lens of trauma, but there’s so much joy here, and there’s so much joy in her work.”

Diaz revealed in the interview that she starts each morning's creative process in jail with a cup of coffee. Even though she loves to paint with oil on canvas, she claimed she frequently utilizes watercolors on illustration boards and watercolor paper and uses her hand as a palette. She purchases her supplies from the commissary and the unit craft store. She admitted that occasionally she approaches other transgender women in the unit and requests a strand of their hair, which she then uses as threads to create her own paintbrushes.

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Joffe asserted that Diaz's work is particularly crucial as transgender persons are more likely to go to jail. The Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank, and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, released a report in 2016 that found that more than 1 in 5 transgender women (21%) reported having spent time in prison or jail—a rate that is four times higher than that of all U.S. adults, at 5%.

Diaz's paintings feature strong queer assertions as themes and motifs. In a work titled "May Our Queer Spirits Forever Soar," she portrayed a faceless figure standing with its arms stretched outward in a pink 3D triangle, a known queer resistance symbol since Nazis used the symbol to brand queer persons during the Holocaust. A white dove flies above the painting, leaving a rainbow print behind it, a symbol that represents the queerness in Diaz's spirit. Another work, the defiant "Queer Spirit (Self-Portrait)," depicts Diaz's own self walking on a wide road under a clouded blue sky. She holds a rainbow flag, which springs out into a bird flying overhead. It’s as if the demonstration of her pride is potent enough to produce wings of escape. As she writes in crimson toward the bottom of the image, “Our queer hearts will not be denied.”



“Queer spirit means love, beauty, and joy, to be proud and happy that we’re queer people,” Diaz told Joffe earlier this year in an interview shared on her website. “It’s like a symbol of happiness and acceptance. I’m trying to make a powerful statement that the queer spirit has just as much recognition or honor as the human spirit.”

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