Welcome to our series BRN GRL WIN. Every Friday, we introduce you to movers and shakers who are KILLING the game. These are women of color we admire and are inspired by, and we want you to be too! (If you know someone who would be great for BRN GRL WIN, let us know!)
CO-OWNER AND STUDIO DIRECTOR at HOLYRAD STUDIO
In today's age of increased social awareness, a number of safe spaces have popped up all over the Internet, providing us with positive images, stories, and most importantly, platforms to express ourselves without holding back. It's a beautiful thing that has sparked powerful movements and brought about real change. But as much as social media gives us a way to amplify our voices, it can also be refreshing to have that safe space offline.
Cue Holyrad Studio, a self-described "intersectional production studio". Best friends Daryl Oh, Coco Layne, and Lanee Bird opened Holyrad over two years ago as a direct response to a creative industry they believe wasn't making room for LGBTQ and people of color.
Their answer? An affordable studio and event space giving artists access to the tools they need to share their stories. Their space has been used for art exhibits like Young, Colored, and Angry, events speaking out against rape culture, and photo series putting brown bodies front and center.
Holyrad is also home to a growing community of artists, photographers, filmmakers, curators and more, all finding kinship with people who understand the challenges of making it in the industry. As their Instagram bio goes: "We need space to work, but we need work to have space".
We sat down with Holyrad's studio director Lanee Bird, who handles the company's day-to-day operations, branded content, and events. We talked to her about Holyrad's mission, her personal passions, and why letting yourself feel sad can sometimes be the best form of self-care.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What inspired you to create Holyrad?
People of color, especially women-identifying people of color, are told that we don’t deserve good things. This idea has been ingrained in our minds [and we] constantly second guess ourselves. Unfortunately, Holyrad Studio was born into a creative industry that works very hard to reinforce the cyclical structures that prevent us from participating and working, and therefore serve to silence people of color's narratives. Our studio was created to operate outside of that.
How does Holyrad work against those structures? Why do you think it's important in today's political and social climate?
Social activism can come in different shapes and forms. For us, Holyrad is a vehicle for financial self [preservation]. We strive to provide New York creatives with affordable access to a production space. "Affordable" being a very subjective word, of course. We prioritize femme-identifying, POC, and LGBTQIA artists to balance out the white default that you find in most photo and video studios in New York.
Freelancing is difficult and studio space is expensive, especially for those who are systematically de-centered. Holyrad is a solution [that helps] artists find financial success with their work so they can continue on and elevate themselves to the same level as the biggest names in the industry, on their own terms.
How have people reacted to what you're doing?
It’s always a response of extremes: either people understand what we’re doing, get super excited about it, and ride with us for the cause, or we get dragged for not doing enough. But being clocked for our own privileges can be really humbling and helpful for the constant state of improvement we are in. I genuinely appreciate those criticisms. Sometimes you need an outsider to check you, otherwise how else would anyone improve?
In today's crazy times, and with all the work you do, how do you take care of yourself? What does self-care look like for you?
Things are heavy. I try to allow that weight to sink in rather than deny how difficult it is to move through our current climate. I’ve been recently making an active choice to weaponize my anger and allow it to work through me like ammo. That being said, self-care is crucial and will always be different for everyone.
Personally, I find a lot of strength in putting aside time to be in my emotions, or accepting that dissociating can sometimes function as a necessary survival mechanism. I can take those moments to cry and fall apart as long as I’m able to get up the next morning and continue doing the work I’ve dedicated myself to.
What are some other things you’re passionate about?
Outside of Holyrad, my personal passions are focused more towards kink culture and sex positivity. What started as an intellectual or educational interest grew into a personal exploration, which ultimately ended up moving into personal, creative practices. The majority of my photography and videography centers around fetish imagery. It’s a constant work in progress and I’ve only begun to dig into such a niche subject.
What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
I’m learning the importance of communication. There’s power in language and the ability to state what you want and deserve from those that share space with you.
I’ve learned that my own resilience builds every time I remove problematic situations from my life. I’ve learned when to channel my anger to confront those that inflict harm and when to walk away from the lost causes.
I absolutely refuse to be complicit in toxic environments anymore and knowing how to recognize those harmful spaces feels empowering. It’s been 25 years in the making, but I can finally make these statements with confidence.
Who or what inspires you to keep growing and improving?
The people in my immediate community are constantly putting me in positions where I’m forced to grow. My "chosen family" are chosen because they’re all really fantastic at holding me accountable, both professionally and personally, asking me to tackle that scary issue, or have that difficult conversation. I lean heavily on my friends for support and advice, because I know they’ll always have my best interest at heart.
What does BRN GRL WIN mean to you?
I’ve spent too much time struggling with my own form of internalized racism: denying my identity to fit into white spaces that I didn’t even want be in, yet feeling obligated to "code switch" for the approval of whiteness. BRN GRL WIN dismantles the idea that our self-worth rests in the hands of those at the top of the hierarchy. Being a brown girl has been really cool and we should all celebrate daily.
Know that Holyrad's doors are always open to you! We're here to support your ideas and provide safe spaces, because we believe in you.