The chameleon-like Malachi Lily excels across a variety of artistic mediums. The Philadelphia-based nonbinary creator is equally at home as a poet, an illustrator and a curator, whose work interrogates the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and aesthetic expectations. Their curatorial work will be on display at Da Vinci Art Alliance in South Philadelphia, which presents “Temple of Sirius” from Oct. 6-27.
Press materials describe “Temple of Sirius” as “a sacred site of Black divinity, a sanctuary in honor of African ancestry, the divine present and the future, all existing in one moment.” Lily’s project brings together the work of multiple queer and nonbinary artists of color.
PGN spoke with Lily about their genre-spanning artistic vision, the impetus for this exhibit and the future of their creative career. Some responses have been condensed.
PGN: Your art intersects with different genres and styles. In your own words, how would you describe your artistic vision?
ML: I think it has always been narrative-based, and I’ve always gone after the mediums I thought could bring my narratives to life. For me, it has always been poetry and illustration, and how I can intersect them together. My illustrations move between different mediums — ink, pencil, cut paper, paint — but through that, it’s more like a channeling for whatever the characters and the story needs to be, rather than letting the medium dictate what it’s going to be like. Every single narrative demands a different medium, and I respond in that way, and my personality adjusts to meet the medium. Poetry has always been my most intimate art form, the one that people know about the least but the one I went to school for. I take it so seriously and keep it so close to me, and I don’t show it until it’s absolutely ready — but I’ve been working on sharing that more. And I use a similar channeling process when I’m bringing words together, from different texts, songs and sounds into a work.
PGN: What was the curatorial process like for “Temple of Sirius”?
ML: “Temple of Sirius” is something that was called to me. I have experienced a pretty significant spiritual journey over the past year-and-a-half — really, a transformation. If you would have met me two years ago, I was a very different person with very different values guiding me. Once I opened myself up to concepts of collective consciousness and oneness, I started to see so many of my peers — especially Black and queer artists — also engaging with these thoughts and topics. We are wrestling with our identities as divine beings in a society that refuses to see us as such. I wanted to bring together artists who were already working on these themes to celebrate them. The first half, “Children of Sirius,” was for performing artists and was done in June. The second half, “Temple of Sirius,” is for visual and digital media artists. I will be building altars to each of those artists. There is not so much a medium or stylistic through-line so much as a showcase of people waking up to the ideas, concepts and knowledge that they are God, they are magical and they create their realities.
PGN: What are some of the themes you hope people will consider when they encounter the work?
ML: I firmly believe that all the people who come are the people who are supposed to be there, and are the people who will be ready to receive the messages that are there for them. I can’t predict all the different intricacies and nuances of messages that people will receive, but I hope the people will come with reverence and contemplation, as one would a holy temple or sacred space. If I could, I would make everyone take off their shoes and really take time before each altar, and maybe leave their own offerings! Everyone has different vibrational connections with deities, plants and animals, and my hope is that those connections will be realized and opened during this exhibition.
PGN: You’ve already achieved a lot, but in an ideal world, what do you think the next phase of your artistic life will look like?
ML: That’s a very exciting question. I hope to keep growing in everything I’m doing. I have a few books I’m working on, so my hope is to complete those, have them published and share them with the world. I want to keep creating queer joy events like dance parties and other collaborative spaces, and other art spaces where I can uplift performers and artists who are vibrating in similar patterns. I want to continue to create community here in Philadelphia, but I also want to travel more, and to connect Philadelphia and myself to other places and people around the world. I really hope that my illustrations will also spread, and that people will ask me to illustrate their dreams and their visions, and to bring their imaginations to life. That brings me such joy.
Da Vinci Art Alliance presents “Temple of Sirius,” Oct. 6-27, 704 Catherine St. For more information, visit davinciartalliance.org.