L.N. Hafezi died on September 14, 2017 of leukemia at Stony Brook Hospital. Known by friends as Nez and nez, they were a beloved dancer, activist, poet, student, educator and friend, deeply committed to making this world a better place to live, especially for people most often forgotten, neglected and marked for death by systemic discrimination.
Through writing, curation, movement, volunteering and activism, Nez was involved with Visual AIDS over the years, often active at the intersection of trans rights and HIV activism. For the 2014 exhibition, Ephemera as Evidence, curated by Ricardo Montez and Joshua Lubin-Levy for Visual AIDS, Nez created Code Switching, an evening of solo performance by Judy Iocovozzi and Natalie Marrero that employed “disidentification as a mode of self-making” followed by a discussion with Neil Greenberg and Danielle Goldman. For the exhibition Nez also worked with Nayeli Portillo to explore the artwork of Chloe Dzubilo, out of which came Dzubilo’s inclusion in the exhibition, a zine, and an online gallery that Nez curated of Dzubilo’s art. Of Dzubilo’s work and legacy, Nez wrote:
Her work's commentary on the systems that constitute our surround and fuck with our abilities to access the things that we need (while simultaneously condoning the socio-political actors who seek to annihilate us on the daily) struck so many nerves in my young, broke, trans/queer, not-quite-white but not-quite-brown-either, Brooklyn-Based bodymind.
Nez marched with the AIDS activist group QUEEROCRACY in DC and New York; danced with Ballez; and showed up tirelessly at meetings and rallies, fighting for all gender washrooms at The New School. Looking at Nez’s contributions, there is a beautiful haze around their work as a culture worker and front line activist. In part this was because they were aware of bodies as sites for love, power, expression and discussion. With our memories and the impact of Nez’s work remaining, it is hard to believe their body will no longer be with us.
Below, members of the Visual AIDS community who activated, danced, marched and created with Nez, remember and pay tribute.
NEIL GREENBERG, dancer, educator
I am beyond grateful to have known nez. My teaching, art making, and life have been deeply affected by knowing them. I’ve found notes from an early “get to know” advising chat during nez’s first days at college. I see they were into the term ‘movement,’” (as an alternative to “dance”) and at that time interested in possibly double majoring in dance and politics. They went on to do brilliant and nuanced artistic and academic work, completing a self-devised path of study entitled “Critical Theories of the Body” in which they did indeed engage with dance, politics, and their intersections with a range of related fields.
I’ve also found an extensive email exchange from a time when nez was first deciding to inform all their teachers of their preferred pronouns, and first taking the courageous actions that contributed immensely to the eventual implementation of all-gender bathrooms at The New School. They casually dropped the acronym “pgp,” which I had never seen before, and laughing at themself for jumping ahead of me in this way explained it to me (preferred gender pronouns) without condescension. I was on a steep learning curve in my dawning awareness of the complexities of gender identity, and I’ll always be grateful to nez for their immense kindness with me and my stumbles and blunders. nez was just so damn generous.
In their sophomore year nez and another student, Ella Misko, made and performed a duet - e/m/d/r - that astounded me. They dared at once a simplicity, a sensitive attention to detail, a forthright directness, and subtle distinctions, even contradictions. Watch it. I think it’s sublime.
NAYELI PORTILLO, writer, activist
Rest in power, Nez. you were an integral part of our community—as an artist, as an activist, and as a comrade. i'm thankful to have learned from you and cannot fully express my gratitude to you for making our community a safer place.
JUDY IOCOVOZZI, dancer
Writing this is hard in ways I will never be able to explain. nez is like my sibling, someone who I connected with immediately, and whose friendship I’ve relied on heavily for the past 6 years. Their influence on my work as a dancer is huge, we collaborated on almost every piece I made since we met. They were my sounding board, my dramaturge, my archive, and my witness. When they asked me to perform in the show they curated for Visual AIDS, I had never felt more seen by someone. They understood my work and pushed me to the limits of my process all the time, while still being incredibly supportive and generous with their time and their brilliant and critical mind. nez’s brilliance is larger than this life, and the volume and quality of their work as a writer, dancer, poet, and music maker proves that if given more time on this plane they would have been one of the most influential artists of our time. Aside from art making, critical theory writing, and radical fucking activism, nez was an incredible friend. They loved big and hard, and my love for them grows bigger and goes harder than it ever has. I thank them for everything they gave me. my work, my gender, my sexuality, the way I move through the world, the way I interact with others, the way I get dressed and wear make up, the way I read, are all deeply influenced and impacted by my relationship with them. It is not enough to say I will miss them, but I do.
ALDRIN VALDEZ, artist, poet
I’ve been feeling incredibly vulnerable and heartbroken since learning that Nez died. The other night they posted about the moon looking pink from where they were and asked what the moon looked like from wherever everyone else was. I was in transit at the time but I wanted to say the moon wasn't as visible from where I was but that I was seeing pink in the light it was casting.
Nez had been in my thoughts a lot. I was sad and scared they were ill and amazed by their resilience. I thought they would pull through. Whenever I saw their selfies, taken in the hospital, I felt a mix of joy and sadness. They were so present. They looked soft and fierce.
I met Nez through Queerocracy back in 2012, during a time when I was becoming more aware of the world at large, and of being a vulnerable body in that world. I remember marching with them in D.C., protesting HIV criminalization. (picture 2) They helped lead the demonstration. In a FB photo, you can see them right up front, holding the banner along with other protesters. I remember they led the chants passionately.
Witnessing and joining Nez and the other protestors was a lesson in how to be loud, to take up space with your feelings, which is a powerful political act.
While I’m sad that my interactions with Nez in the last couple of years have been mostly online, I’m thankful I got to connect with them, to witness them, and to be witnessed by them.
CASSIDY GARDNER, QUEEROCRACY co-founder
Nez was an organizer with QUEEROCRACY in 2012 and 2013 and as a disjointed group with growing pains, we fell hard for the calming strength and sturdiness that was them. Many of us will remember their contributions to the artistic work of the group, their effortless ability to look ravishing in five patterns at once and most importantly we’ll remember that Nez did not fuck around. They were a tireless activist for trans and gender non-conforming folks living with HIV and other chronic conditions. I don’t believe you can say this about most people but Nez wasted no time, they were relentless in their fight to ensure basic protections and safety for those undermined by systemic bullshit – I don’t believe they ever saw not fighting as an option and for that I think we will all look up to them. Thank you Nez for your tenacity, your kindness and for always keeping it real with us.
TAMARA OYOLA-SANTIAGO, educator, activist
Nez and I must have left around the same time. Different university buildings, parallel coordinates. I blinked as my eyes adjusted to the summer sun and there they were, wearing their round mirrored sunglasses and that Boy George-esque hat. Amazing nez.
We headed west, both of us making our way towards the Hudson for ALP's Trans Day of Action. We walked in silence. I enjoyed it, I felt secure and reassured in our being together. Once there, we were both meeting other comrades; and with them we shared news, exchanged stories of action, eyes towards the future, talked about plans for the next academic year.
This was when the bathroom campaign at the university for all gender bathrooms was still contested and nez was at the center of organizing. As a public health educator at the university, i shared spaces with student organizers and moved to find allies within the administration. With the all gender bathroom issue, it was hard, hard work. Organizers were angry and we were all caught in the web of trying to dismantle one of the bastions of transphobia -- the bathroom.
This walk to Trans Day of Action was redemption; we talked about what was shared, how we wish that . . . wish for . . . strive towards . . . shed . . . embrace. As we took over the streets, we walked slowly. I want to remember the stillness of the heat, how we took our sweet time, how we made promises of summer brainstorming.
The day of the action, nez and I crossed paths often, and there was beauty each and every time we met.
JOSHUA LUBIN-LEVY, curator
Nez will always be one of the most impassioned, grounded and determined students, artists and curators I’ve had the honor to know. We met in the spring of 2014 when, as part of Ricardo Montez’s class at The New School, Nez and classmates joined Ricardo and I in working on a show with Visual AIDS titled Ephemera As Evidence (a collective effort itself saturated in loss). Nez had been writing on the work of Chloe Dzubilo and had curated some of Dzubilo’s work into the show. But what most stands out to me is an email that Nez wrote, a tour de force statement about including the work of two choreographers Nez had seen at the Lang Senior Dance Concert. Against, as Nez wrote, the “spectator's inevitable overdetermination of what the body is doing” it was the way these works were “manifestations of really great hard femme” that Nez described as a kind of urgency. It was easy to say yes to Nez. Yet what struck me then (and now as I reread this email) is the generosity of this somewhat lengthy letter that advocates for the work of other artists, trying to give specific language to their practices, and to articulate the shared project that moved/moves between them. Nez embodied a kind of critical collective practice that I deeply admired and that continues to teach me today about what it means to care for and make space for each other. In the face of loss, I find a little comfort in reading these Nez’s words again, “So, yeah. Let me know what you think and we/you/they can go from there.”
RICARDO MONTEZ, educator
In a time when student activist impulses inadvertently produce educational spaces seemingly devoid of challenges—those potentially triggering topics and dangerous articulations that are inherent to any history of disenfranchised subjects—Nez was a brilliant force of resistance, bringing a passionate commitment to social justice to every classroom they entered. Forgoing piety for what felt like an honest belief in our capacities for change, they also engaged others beyond the classroom and attempted to build queer networks of artistic and intellectual exchange in their fight to create something like a better world. Their contributions to Ephemera as Evidence, a pedagogical curatorial project for Visual AIDS in the summer of 2014, revolved around the life and work of Chloe Dzubilo. Inspired by Dzubilo’s powerful punk rock ways of being in the world, Nez and fellow student Nayeli Portillo selected works for the gallery walls and organized an evening of gender code-switching dance performances that sought to reimagine the political potentials of the femme.
News of Nez’s death came out of the blue; a status update shocked me to the reality that this singular being might no longer be with us. A quick scroll through social media revealed the unbearable truth where brief glimpses of illness and intimacy over the last few months gutted me. This is a loss now layered over other losses, over the lives of others who shaped queer life worlds against oppressive phobic regimes. I pulled from my files Xeroxed pages of Dzubilo’s words and images. Stacks of these pages, reproduced in the artist’s DIY aesthetic that Nez found so inspiring, were gifts made by Nez and Nayeli for those who visited the gallery during the run of the show. Holding this crafted object, I am trying to feel my way to Nez in their absence. It is a punk rock power femme fetish that radiates with Dzubilo’s brilliance and Nez’s love for radical queer imaginaries. It is a reminder to refuse Nez’s absence in favor of their generous, ongoing spirit of education and resistance.
SETA MORTON, dancer, poet
A Pantoum (*) is a poetic form that develops meaning through a pattern of repetition and novelty; an algorithm in which language and thought is organized.
When teaching me to write Pantoums, my dear friend nez told me that the true challenge when confronting the repetitiveness of the poem is to “turn the line.” You have an opportunity to renew intention with every repetition.
A Pantoum works as a complex system of interconnected elements. Through its potential to hold a multiplicity of action within one line, I saw the Pantoum embody a network much like intersectionality. A structure that nez always reminded us to recognize. This is just an example of how nez moved, generously, through the many forms that they studied. The way they put their convictions to practice was a holistic endeavor, unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met.
To “turn the line” is symbolic of lessons from nez; to look for more complication, more hidden truths, more contradiction, more connections, more history in any seemingly singular thing. They taught me to be critical; to never assume what it is that I don’t know and to search deeper for what it is that I do. Nez taught me the most important lessons I’ve ever had the privilege to learn. Even in their absence, I am still learning from nez. Rest in power and glory, my sweet nezhat.
(Picture 3 and 4 is a poem that nez gifted to Seta, shared here with permission)
AN ANONYMOUS FRIEND
I don't know what to say other than I am grateful that they never stopped fighting.
OFTEN QUOTED BY NEZ, Assata Shakur
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and protect each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
If you would like to add a memory or tribute, email [email protected]
* Pantoum - The first stanza is made up of four original lines. In each following stanza, the first and third lines recall the second and fourth lines of the previous stanza. The second and fourth lines in each stanza are new. This is exception to the last stanza, which again, repeats the lines of the previous stanza but also recalls lines three and one of the very first stanza.