Ramos-Woodard’s art explores identity

Andre Ramos-Woodard, right, with his brothers Anthony and Adrian celebrated their biorthday recently. Courtesy photo.

Andre Ramos-Woodard is a creative. That is better than calling him a photographer. Calling him a photographer would put him in a box. And Andre refuses to be labeled, whether those labels be male, queer, Black or one third of a set of triplets, although he is all those.

Even the triplet angle goes against the norm. Andre is a fraternal triplet, while his brothers are maternal, meaning he was born from a different egg, while his brothers grew from the same egg and are identical. The brothers have a sister, Tiana, who is five years younger.

When his mother was pregnant with Tiana, Andre’s father told him the next child was going to be his twin.

“I don’t know why he told me that,” Andre said. “When it was announced that my mother was having a girl, my dad told me I just I cried and cried and cried, which is so funny, because now my sister, we look so similar, we act incredibly similar. So, he was right.

“And also, let’s be real, the feminine inside of me loves the fact that I have a sister to relate to so much. It’s great. It’s amazing. It worked out so ironically well.”

Andre’s mother had nine siblings and his father has two. So, he grew up surrounded by a large family support system which meant that, as a child, he was sheltered from racism.

“I barely knew what Black was,” he said. “I barely knew what that identity was because I was just around my family who happened to be Black. I also have my brothers, even though my brothers are incredibly alike, and I’m fraternal and a little bit different than them, we still have camaraderie.

“I definitely I would attribute that to ignorance is bliss. I just grew up around people that accepted me and loved me regardless, that happened to be Black. Then I would go to school, and that didn’t matter. Who cares about skin color? We just want to get on the slide together and can grow up like it does not matter. I grew up, blessed in that way.”

Andre moved to Beaumont in 10th grade and graduated from West Brook High School before earning his undergraduate degree from Lamar University. His brothers were drum majors in high school, and Anthony went on to be drum major at Lamar. But Andre gravitated to art. His first meaningful memory of that inclination came when he was five or six, he said.

“I was at my grandmother’s house, looking through this animal planet book, and I drew this wolf and their little baby,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty ugly. But it had some scale to it, and it was decent. And my mom was super happy. And my grandmother was super happy, and she put it on her wall. I was honored. I was so proud. It made me feel so good that I enjoyed doing something, and also other people were supporting me to do it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Andre Ramos-Woodard, left, with his brothers Anthony and Adrian and sister Tiana. Courtesy photo.

Even without that, Andre said he would still be an artist because he’s always loved to create and draw things.

When he was 14, Andre came out as queer, which he said comes with its own set of issues as a Black man.

“Within the black community, there is such a hard tie to masculinity for male-bodied people that, to me, it’s just unfair — I don’t understand it,” he said. “My coming out experience was very difficult. I think it’s also one of the reasons why, even though I love my mom and dad, I have a really strong relationship with friends and found family, because my coming out experience was not fun.

“My parents were not accepting at first. They pretty much were like, ‘No, that’s not true. It’s a phase. Nip it in the bud and try again.’ Which was really weird to me, because my entire life I had no reason to believe that my parents would not accept me for any reason. They were always loving, and they were always caring and always sweet. But when I came out, that was not the case.”

Andre was also able to lean on the support of his brothers. He said they must have known as they had shared a room for years. They told him they didn’t care and were supportive. Andre said they would take up for him if they heard someone making fun of him or bullying him.

Andre was in middle school when he came out, but said he had to go back in the closet when he was at home. It took until he graduated high school for his parents to come around, he said.

“I didn’t necessarily even come out again, but my aunt saw (my) Face-book post that went, ‘Hey, yo, if you don’t like gay people, then just … delete me.’ And my aunt called my mom and was like, ‘I’m so proud of Andre like that. It’s so good.’

“My mom approached me after that (saying) I really don’t care. It’s really not that big of a deal. I just want grandchildren.”

Andre laughed as he remembered he told her he could still do that, although at the moment, it’s not something he wants.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said, smiling. “It’s just been a battle, but it’s really, really good now. My mom is literally my best friend.”

Andre’s career is blossoming. He was named the 2022 Sarah Crow Fellow, which earned him a show at the Houston Center for Photography where he now works as exhibitions and programs coordinator (he earned the fellowship before he applied for the job). His exhibition “Black Snafu” incorporated cartoon racial stereotypes and photography to examine Black identity and society.

His work also has been acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The opportunity came when was in graduate school at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and participated in the “Month of Photography Denver” festival. MFAH curator Lisa Volpe saw his work and liked it. Andre said he was taken aback when she called him about a purchase.

“She was like, ‘OK, I have good news and I have weird news,” he said. “The good news is we want more than one.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, you know, money.’ And also, just literally putting my work in an institution like that can be pretty cool. (Volpe then said) ‘Weirdness is these prices are too low. Raise them.’

“It’s so cool whenever someone that really wants your work is like, not only am I willing to pay more, I’m not gonna take no for an answer. You should increase the prices. That was really, really warming.

Andre ended up selling them two pieces and donated another.

Andre lives in Houston with his husband, Jose. At the moment he is taking a breather after the exertions of HCA show. But he already has some ideas for his next project. After all, being creative is just who he is — not to put a label on it.

This story first ran in the Feb. 19, 2023, Black History Month special section of the Beaumont Enterprise.

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