Two Of A Kind: Bree Gant And Blair Watts

Artists Use RockCity Lookbook To Curate Their Own Rules

By Ed English

Artists and partners Bree Gant and Blair Watts are aliens in their own right.

"And then you forget that you are an alien," explains Gant, 26, "Because now you have so many ways to reach out and connect with like-minded individuals. But then you're in your daily life and somebody says something about the gays or the blacks or whatever is trending at the moment, and you're like what? Is this 1915 or 2015?"

Never feeling they belong to any particular community, LGBT or otherwise -- "No," they say in tandem -- Gant, a photographer of seven years, and Watts, a stylist, have worked to craft their own community with the forming of their joint creative brand RockCity Lookbook, an artist collaborative producing editorial photography and "anything else that aids in brand awareness and community engagement for working artists."

Beyond the producing of art, the brand's true masterpiece, says Watts, lies in its mission to transcend focus on race, gender and sexual orientation and to give a voice to those who feel they are unheard.

"I feel like when you don't aspire to mainstream, you don't have another option to veer off," says Watts, 26. RockCity Lookbook is meant to be that other option.

Bree Gant And Blair Watts

"At the very least, you get to discover some new boxes to go to. And then you learn there are different boxes, and I can break down this box (or stereotype) and step out of it. It's not about egos here," she explains. "I don't give a fuck about what you do. I just want you to care about who you are and let's be able to work together. That's it."

By stressing their own personal identities and narratives, they try to encourage others to do the same in their chosen medium, says Gant.

"We want to be able to identify ourselves as opposed to having our identity shoved down our throats," she explains. "And I think that is another thing that's common to being both black and queer is that your identity is already superimposed on you. Whatever you identify as doesn't matter because there are so many images of black people in the media. So many images of queer people in the media, that's who you are.

"RockCity is like, 'Oh no. Wait. Wait. This is me, here.'"

They hope to build a community that stresses the individual over generalization, where people, gay or straight, may exist without needing to be defined as gay or straight. And when it comes to rejecting notions of who they -- two gay, black women -- should be, the couple pulls no punches. As they assert, pride is something created in place of acceptance.

"Pride itself. I don't really get it," says Watts. "It doesn't really impress me."

Gant chimes in, "I get it, but I am also a skeptic."

She explains: "I think it's a watered down concept. Instead of pride it should be more about acceptance. You can be prideful and still not accept yourself. And I feel like that's why a lot of people are there. You yell about it here in the streets, but you still aren't accepting yourself," adding, "It shouldn't just be, 'I get to be who I am on this day on this week.'"

While they both agree that love always wins in regards to the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage, Gant says she feels having a movement against oppression has helped LGBT people realize other intersectional issues in the community.

"There is a lot more happening than being gay. There is a lot more happening than being gay and black," she says. "We need to be focusing on everyone being equal. Equal, equality, I'm not fighting to be equal to you because we already are."

The duo explains, in creating RockCity Lookbook, they are not looking to glamorize feeling different, but acknowledge people's struggles.

"I see struggle. It's the purest piece of who people are," explains Watts. "The way that we want to express ourselves and from the shit we always go through, we want to have a good time and want to be surrounded by people who are like-minded. That's our paradise."

Watts and Gant met at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. "A mutual friend introduced us during lunch hour. I was skipping to meet them," says Watts. After they both left Detroit to attend college, they came back for different reasons.

"I came back because I didn't feel like I had all the answers to venture out," explains Watts. "I needed to come back to address some stuff."

Gant's reason was a little more practical. "I came back because I was broke," she says with a laugh. "I stayed because I fell in love with the city."

And from their mutual love of the city, and each other, they both found purpose in sharing their stories and unique voices while encouraging others to do so in Detroit.

"For the same reason I want to hide, it's a lot of fucking work being out there. And people just assume things about you and never allow you to be who you are, just slide you off to the side immediately," says Gant. "I have to fight to live in my everyday life and it shouldn't be that way. But every time I want to crawl in a hole, I'm like, 'There's other people out here.' Somebody will send a message saying thank you for doing what you do. (They'd) never seen anything else like this before, didn't know where to find it, but now they have hope." And it is these people that inspire them to continue being creators.

"For me it's like planting seeds," says Watts. "I want to specifically plant seeds to let people know that we are here. Do it. Do it. Do it. So I can multiply this thing so I can get comfortable. So we can all feel comfortable in Detroit."

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