This month New York City welcomes WorldPride, embracing the theme “Millions of Moments of Pride.” To kick-off our epic Pride celebrations, Art Zealous sat down with an incredibly inspirational and radiant artist, 21-year-old Levi Narine, to discuss his many projects.
Narine is a queer artist who studies at The New School’s Eugene Lang College of Liberal Art for Culture & Media as well as Parsons School of Design. Narine immerses himself in projects that inspire, educate, commemorate and celebrate the diverse LGBTQ+ community.
As a child, Narine knew he was destined to enter the arts in some way shape or form, but it wasn’t until sophomore year of high school that he sparked an interest in architectural design inspired by his globe-trotting tendencies. He galavanted around Europe and Asia, intrigued by the structure and aesthetics of building design. He continued exploring the architect world through internships that taught him about the art of the practice – but what intrigued him was the textile and fabric departments. Studying fabrics and their ability to accommodate weather and transform into many different styles got Narine’s attention.
His new found passion launched a knack for sketching fashion designs during his senior year of high school and that led to pursuing higher education at The New School, focusing on fashion design. And that he did! Recently he came out with an androgynous clothing line called Brooklyn Brat, conceptualizing queer futurism with gender non-conforming fashions. He focuses on surfacing visibility through a diverse team of fresh faces as well as paying homage to Brooklyn.
Part of what Narine loves so much about designing is how he can curate his fabric structurally – he studies fabric technology to create a full and fierce garment. There was a time where he favored designing at home and it was there where he explored the addition of a new layer to his fashion looks, beauty. He enjoyed pairing extravagant makeup looks that complemented his regal designs.
Narine is an absolute delight and we caught up with him about his recent project at The Brooklyn Museum as well as his budding fashion and beauty businesses.
Art Zealous: What is your current phone background?
Levi Narine: A group image of the Brooklyn Brat models in the Beaux-Arts Court at The Brooklyn Museum.
AZ: What are some qualities that got you where you are today?
LN: Diligence, passion, and innovation. Diligence because there are no dull moments in my days. I believe that life doesn’t stop for anyone and you must stay productive to improve yourself further. I am a very passionate person, consistently doing things I love keeps me interested and inspired. Innovation is key, I spend a lot of time thinking about creatives ways to challenge outdated knowledge.
AZ: Who is your favorite LGBTQ+ icon?
LN: Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Stormè Delarverie are my #1 LGBTQ+ Icons because they took the first steps toward the movement. Without their virtue, we wouldn’t have the freedom or knowledge to express gender and sexual identities that aren’t heteronormal.
AZ: Your go-to spot in New York?
LN: One of my go-to spots would be the Brooklyn Museum, because of its authenticity and atmosphere. This museum is unapologetically reflective of what Brooklyn is about. You see the diversity within the visitors as well as the staff. This museum also steps away from the typical pretentiousness that I sometimes feel in other museums. Brooklyn Museum makes me so comfortable, so I spend my off days in its exhibitions and events.
For a miniature getaway, I absolutely love hopping on a ferry to visit Governors Island. It’s great to escape the intensity of the city, relax in a hammock, and indulge in great food.
AZ: What are three words to describe your aesthetic?
LN: Androgynous, Vibrant, and Fierce. I like to express my gender fluidity through my outfits while experimenting with vibrant colors and fabrics. I also tend to keep it fierce by adding makeup and accessories that complement my aesthetic.
AZ: What’s the wildest NYFW story?
LN: There are plenty of wild NYFW stories from my intern days! One that I’ll never forget was at The Blonds show sitting next to Miss Jay & Jay Manuel. They have been my fashion and modeling ICONS since I was a child watching them on America’s Next Top Model. The fact that I got to meet and talk with them in person will never leave my memory!
AZ: How do you think the fashion and art worlds intersect?
LN: Fashion is an expression of art – Models are the canvas and garments decorate the canvas. In order to understand the fashion world, you need to expand your horizons through art history, social trends, and contemporary art. I may not be the greatest painter, but I still practice all forms of art to challenge myself and ultimately broaden my fashion abilities.
AZ: What was the inspiration behind your recent Brooklyn Brat fashion line?
LN: I am constantly inspired by NYC-based trendsetters as well as trailblazers of the past such as Notorious B.I.G, Spike Lee films, and designs by Dapper Dan. I infuse my inspiration with queerness and inclusivity – experimenting and designing garments for all shapes, that complement all skin tones, and fashion pieces that have attitude.
Brooklyn Brat SS19 is the next generation of LEVNAR.com. this collection offers everyday fashion pieces and beauty products with a motive; conceptualizing queer futurism with gender non-conforming fashions, bringing visibility through a diverse team of fresh faces as well as paying homage to Brooklyn.
AZ: Tell us about Nobody Promised You Tomorrow and your involvement with the project at the Brooklyn Museum.
LN: Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall pays tribute to the Stonewall Riots of 1969. It presents 28 artists within the LGBTQ+ community, primarily artists of color, that engage with the themes: Revolt, Care-Network, Legacy, & Desire.
What makes this exhibition unparalleled to its counterparts is inclusivity. Its contributors were multi-departmental from the curatorial team and public programs to our teen programs as well.
My role was to organize and collaboratively create the Resource Room, Our House. Our House is a multi-functional room within the exhibition that explores intersectional LGBTQ legacy, histories, and stories. I’ve chosen 100+ resources with my personal research and suggestions from contributors. With those resources, I filtered through to organize a variety of podcasts, videos, books, zines, and community organization info as part of the project.
AZ: What do you think about makeup becoming an exciting form of self-expression?
LN: Like fashion, makeup is also a form of art. I think makeup becoming a form of self-expression is super important. Although the makeup world is just getting started with diversifying products to open more shade variety and the inclusion of men, I’m 100% here for the impact that makeup has within the art world! When I’m anxious or sad I can express myself through doing makeup and it relieves me of all the stress.
AZ: You’re a leader at Intersextions, an internship at the Brooklyn Museum where teens can come together to explore LGBTQ+ history and discover sexual and gender identities. What has that experience been like?
LN: Led by the Teen Programs Manager, Lindsay Harris, Intersextions is an empowering experience. We learn just as much about the LGBTQ+ community as our teen interns do! This program has opened my eyes to how important it is to have a support group to discuss and challenge social, political, and personal struggles queer individuals face in the world today. The teen members are so passionate about the community and I’m confident they will spread their knowledge outside of the museum.
AZ: After you graduate, are there plans to move abroad and travel a bit or will you stay put in NYC?
LN: I’ve traveled to every continent and continue to explore the world, but I am a Brooklyn Brat for life! After I graduate, I have plans to stay in NYC, but I’m not opposed to living abroad. If I could pick a place to be my second home it would be Paris, Milan, Seoul, or Tokyo.
AZ: Do you have advice for young LGBTQ+ community members who are creative and trying to break into the art and fashion sectors?
LN: Make room for inclusivity. Open your eyes to the members of the community that aren’t as visible and think about ways that your art can empower and inspire individuals.
AZ: Currently working on?
LN: I’m currently perfecting my designs from the latest collection, Brooklyn Brat SS19. I’m redesigning the website to prepare for the online shop to drop soon. I’m constantly seeking local creatives to collaborate within the fashion, modeling and art worlds.
AZ: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
LN: You can expect to see me continue to define my brand and work to become a staple in the fashion and beauty world as a Queer Artist of Color. I want my fashion and beauty brands to be a go-to place for people to enjoy. I want my brand to be the expression and voice for those who often feel voiceless. I want BkBrat to be a fashion movement. I want it to be the norm endeavors not only in the LGBTQ+ community but for everyone!
Follow Levi Narine on Instagram.
Photos // courtesy of Levi Narine