A World Where We Belong
I'm honored to curate with Arthur Bruso an exhibition to celebrate the memory of LGBTQIA+ advocate Georgia Brooks at the Dineen Hull Gallery.
A World Where We Belong, March 3 – April 19, 2017, Dineen Hull Gallery, 71 Sip Avenue, 6th Floor, Jersey City, NJ 07306, Monday – Saturday, 11am to 5pm; Tuesdays, 1am to 8pm; closed Sundays and holidays
Please join us for a special reception and curator talk on March 28, 7pm to 9pm
“But I who am bound by my mirror as well as my bed see causes in color as well as sex and sit here wondering which me will survive all these liberations.” (12-18) —Audre Lorde, “Who Said it was Simple.” From a Land Where Other People Live, © 1973 by Audre Lorde. When Georgia Brooks (1943-2013) was seeking validation that she was not alone with the same-sex feelings she was experiencing, she took the advice of a friend. She went to 42nd Street, Times Square. There, she had been assured, she “could find anything.” Leaving behind her small, close life on a farm outside of Augusta, Georgia, Georgia Brooks arrived in New York as an 18-year-old. In New York she found the freedom, opportunity and sense of possibility that everyone is drawn to in a big city. The Times Square of the 1960s had a more squalid and prurient atmosphere then today. It had a reputation that any desire could be fulfilled there. Georgia Brooks did indeed find evidence of others like herself in the form of lesbian-themed pornographic pulp novels. In a 2011 interview, she cites two books, Carla and Lesbian Gym Teacher, as the fruit of her expedition. Although the novels traded in stereotypes and a prevailing sense of internalized shame Georgia found the books, “helped me to not feel isolated and gave me hope that I might find a lesbian, or some lesbians….” From the seductive sell copy on Carla, Georgia reads “to the world a lass, to her lovers butch, to herself tramp.” She adds without irony, “It’s unfortunate that she felt herself a tramp, because for me she’s an example.”
So it has been for many others who find themselves outside of the prevailing understanding and depiction of what is normal. For those of us who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+* community, the search to find our own definition of normal may take us to Times Square or to other places of doubtful or meaningful reputation. On our journeys to find validation for our identities, the road is fraught with unanswered questions and sometimes false information. However, often there is a defining moment when something, be it a book, an image, an event— it could be anything— becomes the illuminating experience that makes us pause and we become enlightened to our true selves. Our exhibition aims to present art and artifacts that speak to this moment of self-understanding—when we discovered a world where we belong.
The fallacy of the LGBTQIA+ people is that there is one, singular community where we all live, communicate and build our utopian dream. This is far from the reality. There are many different communities that march under the rainbow flag. Some even have divergent philosophies that run counter to others, which makes our proposed utopia more challenging to realize. Ka-Man Tse is a Hong Kong-born photographer, who often uses her native city as a background for her narrative photographs. In the images from the series, Narrow Distances presented in A World Where We Belong, she explores the meaning of personal space and identity in that overcrowded and man-made environment, as well as the cultural constrictions of being “gwai” (obedient) and silent and how LGBTQIA+ individuals attempt to navigate these physical and cultural impediments.
Jonathan David Smyth explores his experience of displacement, with his ongoing series Just One More. From his childhood as an adoptee, who was told to keep his adoption a secret, to his coming out as gay, and continuing to his living as immigrant/ex-patriot in New York, he began this series of self-portraits as a way to anchor himself to the reality of his life and as proof of his place in the world.
Sharela May Bonfield explores the personal becoming political through the continuing discussion of black women’s hair. The cultural pressure for women of African descent to modify the texture of their hair to more closely reflect the texture of Caucasian hair has been a controversy for decades. Hair as identity has been the subject of other artists such as Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems, both African-American. During the 1960s with the rise of the Black Power movement, the afro became a defiant symbol of racial pride and culture. Hair texture and style continues to be a personal and effective conveyance for personal ideologies.
Mikaela Lungulov-Klotz transverses complicated territory having grown up with constant geographical change. Born to a Serbian father and Chilean mother who separated when she and her twin sister were one year old, their lives have been uprooted and moved between Chile, the U.S. and Serbia. They traded countries, cities, schools, families and friends. With her photographic series on her twin sister, who has decided to come out as a trans man and proceed with the transition process, she documents the difficult passage from the perspective of the twin relationship and the disruption and redefining of sibling and family.
As Georgia Brooks attests, there is often a point in the lives of most LGBTQIA+ people, where we have had enough of feeling different and excluded. We go in search of community; for some evidence that we are not alone. For A World Where We Belong, we asked artists to consider the artifacts that illustrate that pivotal moment of their lives when they found their community. Enrico Gomez presents a collection of books and articles that speak to the discovery of queer identity within the arts. He presents an artist’s book of anatomy, often the first place where a young person can see the naked body without stigma. He also provides a magazine article on the male nudes of John Singer Sergeant and the autobiography of David Wojnarowicz. These are interesting choices, because of their dichotomy—from the suppressed to the overt. For many years, Sergeant’s male nudes were ignored by the greater art museum community. Sergeant’s interest in the male form was not discussed in the context of art history. His contribution to art, if discussed at all, was dismissed as style without substance. However, when a gay male is a budding artist looking for evidence that there are others like him, an article like “A Private Album” will catch his eye because of the rarity of the subject. Not only can the work be eroticized, but the artist (Sergeant) can be lionized. Conversely, in the ten years between the Sergeant article and the Wojnarowicz book, there was a dramatic change in gay awareness. Not only had the Gay Liberation Movement begun to shed light on the love that dare not speak its name, A.I.D.S. had devastated the gay community to such a degree, that radical activism became prevalent and necessary to bring attention to the loss and suffering of thousands. Close to the Knives chronicles the difficult life of David Wojnarowicz as an abused and neglected child to his remarkable transformation into a tireless and vociferous A.I.D.S. activist and artist. Wojnarowicz was unapologetically gay. His stories of his teenage hustling and homelessness became the inspiration for a generation of gay men looking for a voice and a light during one of the darkest times of gay history.
The artifacts presented in the exhibition from The Lesbian Herstory Archives are a small selection from their vast holdings. Evolving from meetings that began in 1972, to the publication of the first LHA newsletter in 1975, the archives preserve the often-discarded information and memorabilia of lesbian woman. The LHA possesses a vast t-shirt collection with quotes, imagery and group affiliations that boldly express lesbian identity. Hundreds of t-shirts from the early 1970s to the present have been catalogued and stored. On view is a t-shirt from “Salsa Soul Sisters” — one of the first lesbian organizations created by and for women of color. Georgia Brooks herself was among its founding members. As a tribute to Georgia Brooks, we present a selection of pulp novels, described as “survival literature” by the LHA for their importance to the lesbian community as a voice to women’s same-sex longings, largely from a time when there was no other. Included in the display are buttons that document the varied political actions that have become necessary for women to make their voices heard. The Lesbian Herstory Archives seeks to preserve and document a community that would otherwise be erased from the mainstream histories.
Coming together in community is at the heart of our exhibition, especially finding strength together in the face crisis. Eric Rhein’s wire construction Artistic Heritage from his series Leaves, is a memorial to those fallen by A.I.D.S. Each wire leaf is representative of a gay man lost to the disease. The metaphor which encompasses Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as seminal concept, has grown to become a potent and moving testament to the fallen and lost.
But even if we members of the LGBTQIA+ community are, as Audre Lorde suggests, “from a land where other people live,” we are all living under the same sun. It is right that the rainbow flag is the symbol that unites our differences. Matt Jensen’s photo series, Rainbow Around the Sun, is a fitting work to not only bring the diversity of A World Where We Belong together, it is also an appropriate statement to enter the multi-voiced and many-headed community of LGBTQIA+ persons into the greater world at large where we can live celebrating our differences while living in unity.
—Arthur Bruso & Raymond E. Mingst curators
* The initials LGBTQIA+ are meant to be inclusive of a broad range of sexual and gender identities. The letters commonly refer to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual communities.
IMAGES FROM TOP: Pulp novels from the collection of the Lesbian Herstory Archives; Ka-Man Tse, untitled, 2016, archival inkjet print, 24 X 30 inches; Sandra DeSando, Seeing and Becoming the Tree, 2016, colored pencil, acrylic wash, stencil, 66 X 60 inches; Mikaela Lungulov-Klotz, untitled, 2016, inkjet print, 25 X 20 inches.