La Vonte Thompson: An emerging (self) portrait

Reflected by Sharon Mansur, in conversation with La Vonte Thompson. Above: La Vonte Thompson, Loverboy, 2023. 


[Description of the portrait Loverboy (2023) La Vonte is looking at the camera, with a white  gloved hand gently resting on his chin over his beard.]

Sharon: “When you see your self-portraits, what do you see?”

[His right eye is highlighted by an orange heart bordered by clear rhinestones. His left eyelid  is purple.]

La Vonte: “Sometimes I affectionately refer to myself as a brute…this is a gentler side.”

[He’s wearing a purple scarf, with delicate hoop earrings dangling from his ears and a smaller double hoop from his nose.]

“A lot of my life I had to protect myself and so my default – I come off as ‘Don’t come around me.’”

[The word ‘BRUTE’ peeks out from where his hair meets his forehead.]

“I always use white gloves when I do photography. It’s kind of another gentle thing, being particular about what you do.”

La Vonte Thompson, Mutual Butterflies, 2023. Collage.

“I’ve moved a lot. I moved 29 times as a kid. Most of that in middle school. A home isn’t something I fully get.”

[Description: Mutual Butterflies collage (2023) Vivid rows of magenta, pink, white and yellow flowers streaming towards the foreground as an urban landscape delineates the back edge. Two figures walking hand in hand, encircled by a ring of butterflies, encircled by a ring of flowers overhead.]

“I’m from Wisconsin. I came here [Winona] in middle school. I stayed from 4th or 5th to 8th grade. I then got incarcerated as a teen for acting out and whatever, and I moved to Rochester when I came home. Alexis [Hayes] and I started dating in 2016 and an opportunity came up to move here just to make it easier on both of us.”

La Vonte describes creating small daily intentional rituals in his life more recently that create a sense of home, such as making coffee and caring for his pet frogs. Honoring himself and his home environment. 

“Over the years I’ve taken steps to be more intentional…I wasn’t allowed a lot of my life to be that way.”

[Three larger butterflies approach the duo. And two doves hover in the lower left corner, conspiring between themselves. A row of numbers frame the bottom and along the right side.]

“…I do love the community here that I’ve created and found. And I think it would be really hard to replicate, so I’m not in a rush to get out of here. There are negatives and positives everywhere.”

[There are rumpled vertical and horizontal lines running through it, as though it has been folded and stored in someone’s back pocket for safekeeping. Perhaps for nostalgia, a memory to cherish. Or perhaps a future to imagine.]

La Vonte Thompson, from Taking a Walk series, 2021.

[Description: Portrait from the Taking a Walk series (2021) Rays of waning sun streaming from the right highlight and obscure her face as she turns to look back at the camera.]

“I took a picture, I think it was of my dog. Alexis [Hayes] and I had just started dating, in that early impress your partner phase. She said ‘You took a really nice picture. You should get a camera.’ And I just went and bought a camera. And that actually worked out!”

[Her right hand rests against her right cheek and her gaze advances forward. The walking path recedes into a soft blur of green and concrete. Yellow flowers sprout from her shirt. Eyes meet eyes.]

“It’s not a matter of whether or not I’ve done it. I kind of can feel whether or not I can get something done. I’ve thought about it, I can see it in my head, which is the most important thing.”

La Vonte Thompson, New Era 90s, 2017-2018.

“I don’t know all the terms, because I’m self-taught. But the main picture of the project, as long as we get that, and we will, that’s all that matters to me. The rest will come together and make sense.”

[Description: New Era 90s (2017-2018) He raises his left hand to the camera, palm up, slightly blurred. He’s wearing a red sweater with white horizontal stripes along with a bit more color. Is that blue? Small bright colorful orbs dot his palm and spread across the scene. We’re glancing up at him from below. His gaze is serious and direct.]

“When I do photoshoots with people they might expect this big grandiose thing. But I’m like ‘This is just quick and dirty. It doesn’t need to look great out here. We just need a small space to do it.’”

[Sharon on viewing La Vonte’s portraits: “I can feel your gaze on the subject, and the sense of honoring. And there’s such a clear eye…you’re really asking me to see clearly, and you’re making it so possible to really see so many layers. The honesty and depth of what you’re looking at feels like an invitation to me to also see that.”]

“We can take twenty not great pictures. We just need one, and we get the one every time.” “Everyone is pretty. Everyone has something about them.”


La Vonte Thompson, from Give Me My Flowers series, 2023.

Give Me My Flowers: Exalting Black Women & Girls (2023)

Website description: “Give Me My Flowers is meant to shine light on Black people and everything beautiful, compelling, and powerful about us.”

Supported by a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council Individual Emerging Artist grant in 2022, these images by La Vonte of Asiah and Ahniya were first shared at No Name Bar in Winona in 2023, and are now on his website:

“[The series title is] tying in the theme of giving someone their flowers, which is just appreciating them for who they are, what they do, what they offer.”

[Description: Her clear gaze, eyes centered, drawing me in. Hands resting on her head, palms down. Elbows wide.]

“I don’t always feel like Black women are appreciated.”

[A circle of light frames her torso as she frames herself.]

“For example for Asiah’s photoshoot … I took notes in an interview I had with her. She said something about feeling like she’s not in the spotlight a lot … And I was like: Oh … just put a spotlight on her and see what happens. And it looked great–on the nose.”

[A hint of shadow, framed by light, framed by shadow.]

“Everyone has something about them.”

[Fingers poised. Bright eyes. Inner light revealed. Framing a life force.]

“It all came together so it was really meaningful for me, and it was fun, too.”


“Luckily we [Alexis and La Vonte] got wrangled into the group of Mary Jo Klinker and her associates in Winona. I call it the No Name Community, for No Name Bar. Really good people.”

“While being here, I’ve been a part of helping out, [for example] getting the cops out of Winona Senior High School. Unfortunately I was in the newspaper on an air horn. I did not like it.” 

He laughed.

[Description: La Vonte’s laugh starts deep, with a surprising lightness towards the end.]

“I’ve been involved with Juneteenth, getting Juneteenth set up. It was really hard the first Juneteenth, it was a lot of work. But it was really cool to see that many people show up.”

“One thing I can say I appreciate and I found with Juneteenth here in Winona, whether people are there because it’s Juneteenth, it kinda doesn’t matter to me. It’s more about trying to show some sense of community.”

“I’ll help out with Our Voices, Community Not Cages … But I don’t necessarily say that I’m an activist. I’m just a voice … I’ve got a loud voice, so I’m useful at times.” 

We both laugh. 

[Sharon to La Vonte: “I’m struck that [this is] similar to hearing you talk about your creative photo portraits and a portrait of yourself living your life. The layers and depth that you allow people to see, and what you have choice over, as you’re more aware. Can you choose something else, and with who? And creating relationships to different layers of identity, to race, gender, sexuality, to conversations and topics.”]

“Sometimes people legitimately don’t know why they feel that way. Or maybe they haven’t thought about something. There’s a lot of things that I’ve learned that I’ve never thought of. So give someone a shot maybe…”

[Sharon: “You’re like a freelance activist!”]

"People call on me to do something specifically that they know I can do. And that’s been rewarding.”

Matt Wagner, Portrait of La Vonte Thompson, 2024. Based on La Vonte Thompson, Loverboy, 2023.

[Description: La Vonte is.]

“I was raised by all Black women, my mom, my grandma. And them being in my life made me, for better or for worse, who I am.

[La Vonte is. La Vonte is a man.]

“As a Black man specifically, [I’m] trying to be a better person and trying to understand people and be more empathic. I know sometimes being a Black man is to be very manly at times.”

[La Vonte is. La Vonte is a man. La Vonte is Black.]

“As I’ve grown into who I am, I understand myself and other people.”

[La Vonte is. La Vonte is a man. La Vonte is Black. La Vonte is a Black man.]

“Trying to work together to find out, looking into things…with another Black man and having that layer of vulnerability is good and it’s different.“

[La Vonte is himself.]

“I like the community you can make here. You can create your own little slice. Others might not be aware of your slice, [but] you can have your little part, and that’s really rewarding and it’s honestly appreciated.”

“I’d like to see more of the Black community acknowledged in more ways than negative. And also I’d like to engage more with my community in the ways I can offer.”

View La Vonte’s creations at

Sharon Mansur is a Winona-based dance and interdisciplinary artist, curator, educator,  community mover & shaker. Learn more about Sharon at and
Spillway is an initiative supporting artists, culture-bearers, and local organizations in their expression of the diverse cultures, communities, and histories of the Upper Mississippi River region.  

The stories shared here were produced through a collaboration between Art of the Rural and Engage Winona.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.