I am an only child. As a kid, I constantly daydreamed about having a twin like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (who I was obsessed with because we all share the same birthday). Sure, I was a Gemini, but without a twin, it just wasn't enough. I yearned for the kinship I imagined only sisterhood could offer.
Tonya Hurley and Tracy Martin, the founders of Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum, are the living embodiment of my childhood dreams. Tonya and Tracy's relationship is one forged by creativity, collaboration, and all things macabre. The first time that I met them was during my first month working at Morbid Anatomy, and within seconds I could tell that they were a singular team. Together they've made their aspirations into a reality: they moved to New York City from small-town Pennsylvania, landed jobs working for one of their favorite record labels, collaborated on short films (that would later inspire Tonya's book series Ghostgirl ), and have cultivated a life fueled by their drive to connect with others through narrative.
A few weeks ago, I got the chance to talk with Tonya and Tracy in Tracy's home. Walking through the doorway of her 19th-century brownstone, I felt transported in time. From the winding ivy clinging to its exterior to the antique anatomical charts that hung on the walls of her living room, her home is a total Victorian paradise. We discussed their obsession with death and darkness and some of the most memorable moments of their relationship. Their bond is a testament to the transformative power of sisterhood and friendship.
Dianca Potts: Was there anything that the two of you shared while you were growing up that you didn't share with anyone else?
Tonya Hurley: In high school, we did everything that we could in our power not to fit in. We were in a punk band. She played bass and I played drums. I had a Mohawk, and we colored our hair, and we did everything that we could to be on the outside, and I think that at that point we realized that together that was OK, because we had each other …
Tracy Martin: It gave us a lot more courage.
TH: I think that when we were young, it was a struggle because we were "The Hurley Twins"; we weren't Tonya and Tracy and finding our own identities. As we've grown older — strangely enough — we have merged in our art and what we do, but when we were young it was pretty strange. We were seen as freaks because we were the only twins in our town.
DP: I'm from Pennsylvania too, and as one of the few black girls at my school, I relate to being an outsider. What was being different in Pennsylvania like for you?
TH: I think that both of us woke up one day — it was literally an overnight thing when we were 15 — and said, This is bullshit , the way that people are treated in this town, it's bullshit . We mixed with every crowd but we were just like, This is so shitty, so we just went to school the next day with our hair colored and kind of protested [homogeneity]. It was not a popular thing and we were ridiculed and mistreated for it.
TM: [We were] called drug addicts.
TH: All we really wanted to do was listen to music and make a point and fight that whole idea of this is how you're supposed to be, that if you're not a cheerleader then you're not worthy of anything.