Art

Emerging LGBTQ Artists Find Hope Amid a Grim Political Landscape

The Queer Art Mentorship (QAM) annual exhibition, Here & Not Yet, comes at a critical moment for the LGBTQ community.

Zoe Schlacter, “Me As a Queer Archivist” (2017), digital photography, collage (all images courtesy the artists)

This year’s Queer Art Mentorship (QAM) annual exhibition, entitled Here & Not Yet, comes at a critical moment for the LGBTQ community. Just days before the opening at the historic Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Community Center in New York (The Center), the Trump administration announced its plan to narrowly define gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth. If this effort succeeds, it would essentially define trans- and non-binary-identifying people out of existence.

In spite of this ominous political backdrop, the 11 rising star LGBTQ artists featured at The Center present works that convey a glimmering hope for the future.  These interdisciplinary artists — Justin Allen, Eames Armstrong, David Antonio Cruz, Marco DaSilva, Federica Gianni, Lucas Habte, Ryan Haddad, Lamya Haq, Jarrett Key, Madsen Minax, and Zoe Schlacter — work in a wide range of media, including film, literature, performance, and visual art. The annual exhibition is the culmination of QAM’s year-long program, which paired these 11 emerging artists with established mentors in their field who helped them develop their projects.

Madsen Minax, still from North By Current (2018)

Organized by QAM Curatorial Fellow Eames Armstrong, Here & Not Yet offers a diverse representation of queer experience with a focus on individual identity. Works on view examine the past, present, and future of LGBTQ experiences through trans-historical personal narratives, many of which feature nonlinear notions of time and storytelling.

Madsen Minax, still from North By Current (2018)

Of these 11 artists, Madsen Minax’s work stands out, deftly connecting his exploration of his own trans identity to more universal themes of religion , addiction, and grief. Minax presents an excerpt of his in-progress film, North By Current, accompanied by prints of stills from the film. A hybrid documentary told in the first-person, North By Current follows Minax’s journey home to his rural sawmill hometown in Michigan following the death of his infant niece and his brother-in-law’s wrongful conviction and incarceration for her murder.

Madsen Minax, Blues IV, Digital collage, based on images from the film North By Current (2018)

Throughout the film, the artist juxtaposes scenes of himself as a trans adult male spending time among his family with footage from Super 8 and VHS home movies from his childhood. A female child (presumably the artist) appears throughout the vintage footage, smiling at the camera, dancing, and playing. Some scenes are intercut with dialogue or written texts; others transition placidly with wide-frame landscapes of sunrises, sunsets, trees, a frozen lake, fading light seeping through a rustling off-white curtain. The viewer is lulled into a dreamy haze that evokes the feeling of recalling a distant memory. Familial conversations, both strained and tender, float in and out of rooms as the film drifts between past and present, adulthood and childhood. Minax offers a rich cinematic language that conveys the mutability of memory.

Religion, grief, and trans identity intersect at various points of the video. In one scene, the filmmaker’s parents talk about how it feels to lose a child. On the surface, it seems that they are talking about the death of their granddaughter, but the loss they speak of also seems to reference the filmmaker himself. Shots of a nativity scene follow; a chorus of people sing Christian hymns in the background. By contrasting symbols of birth and faith with vignettes of death and loss, Minax articulates the complexities of his relationships with family, religion, and childhood.  It’s rare to see a dialogue between religiosity, rural life, trans identity, and queerness; Minax elegantly parses the relationships between these disparate themes, visually layering them in an effort to challenge preconceived notions about individual queer experience.

Madsen Minax, still from North By Current (2018)

Connected by ephemeral, immaterial, and performative concepts, the exhibition as a whole exists in various stages of completion and creation.  Some artists prophesize their own futures, while others archive and reimagine their pasts.  All tell stories of becoming.  Marco DaSilva’s lustrous self-portrait photo prints, “Of Water (A Sereia),” “Of Land (O Homem),” and “Of Sky (O Sol),” are inspired by La Lotería, a Mexican card game of chance.  He recasts the Tarot-like characters on the cards with images of himself, telling his own genderqueer fortune.

Zoe Schlacter’s photography and textile works, “Self Portrait” and “Handweaving,” explore the potential of personal wardrobe as a form of self-archiving and discovery. Minax’s autobiographical work blurs the lines between past, present, and future self, demonstrating that queerness is on the horizon — close, and yet still far away. As he and his peers in Here & Not Yet articulate, queerness endures in the face of discrimination and hate. To quote the influential queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz, queerness is and will always be impossible to erase, because it is “not yet conscious”, because it is “not yet here.”

Marco DaSilva, “Of Land (O Homem)” (2018), luster finish photo print

Here & Not Yet, curated by Eames Armstrong, continues at The Center (208 W 13 St, New York, NY) through December 31.

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