How Do I Look? DVAA

Eppchez! Abstract Packer #1 Eye Bulge #2 Big Queer Ice Cream #3 Pocket Rocket, foam and fabric, 1st Prize, How Do I Look?

How do I Look? Shifting Representations of Queer Identities, Da Vinci Art Alliance

by DoN Brewer

Queer is a difficult word for me to use as a signifier; when I was a teenager my Mom would sometimes say I looked queer when I went to school. I didn’t know it was a gay slur, or that she was concerned for me because of the way I liked to dress. In the 60s I grew my hair long, wore bell-bottom jeans and idolized Rock Gods like Jim Morrison and Robert Plant. Rock music was the soundtrack of my life but actually I was obsessed with the bulge in their jeans. By the time I graduated from high school the Gay Rights movement had begun in earnest; after Dr. Martin Luther King came to Philly there was a gay rights protest outside of Little Pete’s Diner on 17th St. because of the cops harassing drag queens and later a grand march of hundreds of gay people that started in Rittenhouse Square, marching proudly down Walnut Street, ending at Independence Mall. And then the Stone Wall riots caught the nation’s attention like a queen in daytime drag.

How Do I Look? DVAA

Stiofan O’Ceallaigh, Decisions Decisions, photo collage

Young people today don’t know about the ‘pretty police’, cops in tight white jeans, who would hang by the urinals at The Allegro nightclub on Spruce Street and then bust someone for cruising them. Punishment could range from your name being printed in the paper to being beat up and thrown in the Schuykill River. The word ‘gay’ had a rough start, too, with jokes and insults attached but the label has maintained it’s significance. Righteous religious zealots used the radio to bash the gay civil rights movement and TV always portrayed gays as nelly queens with lisps and limp wrists.

The Declassification of Homosexuality by the American Psychiatric Association happened in 1973, before that being gay was considered a mental illness. Words like degenerate, sodomite, pervert, pederast, faggot, dyke and queer were used to define gay behavior, yet still there was a vibrant homosexual community in cities across the world. In 1890, Émile Zola‘s book Nana described the goings-on in the balconies of the Théâtre des Variétés. In the early 1900’s artist Charles Demuth was introduced to the avant-garde and fellow artist Marsden Hartley, both artists portrayed gay life in house parties, bath houses, alley sex and masculine images of gay men. Their art is now part of the pantheon of New American Modernism in painting.

How Do I Look? DVAA

Thom Duffy Fine Art, Dion, oils

Art has documented homosexuality as far back as the ancient Greeks, yet terms like ‘queer’ are still used to insult, harass and malign people for being the way they were born. The show at Da Vinci Art Alliance, How do I Look? Shifting Representations of Queer Identities, reclaims the word with a sublime exhibition of art and language describing the modern state of gay identity.

How do I Look? Shifting Representations of Queer Identities
Exhibit runs through Sunday, January 29, 2017
Da Vinci Art Alliance Gallery Hours: Wednesday, 6:00 – 8:00pm; Saturday + Sunday, 1:00 – 5:00pm

Juror: Craig Bruns, artist and Chief Curator at the Independence Seaport Museum

ArtistsAaron Kalinay, Alden ColeBennet ShipmanCatriona GunnCorliss CavalieriDavid Meade WalkerDevon ReifferEbony Malaika CollierEppchez!Gabriel MartinezGeorge ApotsosJoseph Arnold, Kevin BroadSantiago GaleasStiofan O’CeallaighSusan DiPronioThom DuffyThomas Sonnenberg, Willard Johnson

How Do I Look? DVAA

Devon Reiffer, Bound to Barbasol, charcoal, 2nd Prize, How Do I Look?

Devon Reiffer and I first met at her PAFA student exhibition in 2014; large scale charcoal drawings revealing lesbian and homosexual identity stood out from the rest of her class. Bound to Barbisol describes the rituals to subdue femininity and heighten secondary masculine traits in female to male trans-sexual with a strong narrative and perspective that captivated the gallery goers. Revealing secrets, the drawing is daringly feminist of the artist in the mundane ritual of gender expressionism, a term which refers to the ways in which we each manifest masculinity or femininity.

How Do I Look? DVAA

Joe Arnold, Phil, photograph, How Do I Look?

In the 21st Century gay people now can search each other out through smart phone apps. Personal ads in The Philadelphia Gay News are gone and replaced with Craig’s List ads. In the 1960’s Drum Magazine publisher Clark Pollack was arrested for sending obscene materials across state lines even though the erotica is tame by today’s standards; it was the concept of gay people hooking up that was obscene. Now, not only can one locate a desirable sex partner but can determine exactly how far away they are before meeting. App developers become rich, their inventions downloadable from the libraries of giant corporations. Artist Joe Arnold experimented with gay dating apps for his photography by inviting users to pose for him in their homes. Phil is frank in it’s lurid decor, but the character study reveals an air of detachment to the sexuality in the age of Truvada, PrEP and sexual consumerism.

How Do I Look? DVAA

Aaron Kalinay, The Mean Reds Not The Blues, watercolor and acrylic, 3rd Prize

Curator and Juror Craig Burns, in his remarks following the award ceremony, reminded the younger members of the crowd gathered to celebrate the exhibition that many people before them fought for their rights to be out of the closet. But the fight isn’t over; the passing of same sex marriage laws only makes gay people acceptable to a hetero-normative culture. To be queer means that accepting the status quo is not enough to satisfy the desire for self actualization and may make the majority squeamish in the pursuit of happiness. Just today, January 20th, 2017, the new Republican administration removed the LGBT page from the White House website.

We’re Here. We’re Queer. Get Used to It.

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Written and photographed by DoN Brewer

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