As a recent transplant to the Bay Area, I’ve spent the past eight months in a queer state of bliss: I’ve now come to the conclusion that it was naivety. I’m familiar with being subjected to the stares, grimaces and murmurs as my partner and I walk hand in hand down the street. I’m prepared for the awkward tension and avoidance that ensues after a straight person realizes I’m a lesbian, but the homophobic remarks knock the wind out of me each time. Luckily, it’s Pride month and as I turn to the exhibition ReMix: ReFraming Appropriation, my heart lifts and I know this is the perfect way to refuel.
Fifteen years ago, the Queer Cultural Center embarked on a journey that has changed the face of how we visualize queer art today. Qcc starts the 15th Annual National Queer Arts Festival with the exhibition ReMix: ReFraming Appropriation, curated by Jonathan D. Katz, art historian and Chair of the Visual Studies doctoral program at SUNY, Buffalo. Katz has written extensively on the topic of queer studies in art history, and is well known for his pioneering work as an activist in the LGBTQI community. As one of the first curators of the National Queer Arts Festival, Katz re-introduces works from past exhibitions, exploring issues of race, identity, visibility and representation through appropriation. However, it is important to first understand that self-identification is an important element to seeing as a queer viewer. LGBTQI history has been silenced and covered up which resulted in a history of reading ourselves into visual culture. We’ve had to exist behind a veil of codes and unspoken rules to be seen and quite frequently negatively seen. The artists in the exhibition have created works that resonate with the queer viewer and subvert the dominant theoretical frameworks of heteronormativity.
In the series My Pie Town, artist Debbie Grossman visually transforms a series of images by photographer Russell Lee originally taken in Pie Town, NM for the United States Farm Administration in 1940. The series depicts the lives of an all-woman community and reflects a desired lesbian history. Grossman says of her series, “I fantasize about locating myself within those pictures and that time. So in an attempt to make the history I wish was real, I have made over Pie Town to mirror my fantasy.” While the series physically places this lesbian utopian existence in our historic timeline, it’s also important to recognize that Grossman didn’t overreach in creating an unbelievable utopia. In the image Jean Norris and wife Virginia Norris, homesteaders and town founders, their faces tell a story of a life of hard labor, evidence that suggests within this lesbian society, pre-existing codes of domesticity and gender roles are nonexistent.
Generations span the distance between dual depictions of the Three Graces by the late artist Tee Corinne and artist Del LaGrace Volcano. Both artists’ works can be identified immediately without referencing the name plate: Corinne’s trademark solarization process creates dark contrasting shadows and a somewhat velvety appearance, while Del LaGrace’s photograph recalls 1990′s punk rock culture. Despite differences, they strike a similar chord depicting representations of women that are non-objectifying. Corinne’s practice of solarization creates an abstracted representation of lesbian sexuality layered with anonymity while, Del LaGrace removes traditional fem(me)inine signifiers, such as hair and makeup, and intervening upon the Three Graces as a piece of traditional Western iconography.
The ReMix: Reframing Appropriation questions and re-writes history through appropriating discriminatory cultural signifiers that humiliate and alienate LGBTQI individuals and communities and transform them into empowering messages to heal and fight back. Today, as I am in the gallery surrounded by such great works of art, I look to the artists—my comrades and bordering on tears, I give a triumphant, “Hell, yes!”
Come check out ReMix: ReFraming Appropriation, now through June 26th. SOMArts Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, Noon to 7PM and Saturday Noon to 5PM.
About the Author:
Erica Gomez is currently a Curatorial Intern at SOMArts Cultural Center and has a B.A. from Metropolitan State University, Denver, Colorado, in Art History, Theory and Criticism. She has been accepted into the California College of the Arts Visual and Critical Studies Graduate Program and will begin in the Fall of 2012.
For more information about internships at SOMArts, please click here.
Pictured above Jean Norris and wife Virginia Norris, homesteaders and town founders by Debbie Grossman, Three Graces by Tee Corinne and Three Graces by Del LaGrace Volcano.