Belén Yudess ’25
Copy Editor Intern
What does it mean to be queer in one’s own time?
On Oct. 28, the Ruth Chandler William’s Gallery opened its latest exhibit “Queer-ish: Photography and the LGBTQ+ Imaginary,” thoughtfully curated by photography and humanities professor and Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair in Art, Ken Gonzales-Day. Split into four sections – “Touch,” “Portrait,” “Queer Imaginary,” and “Acting Out” – the gallery features several black and white portraits of same sex couples embracing or holding hands, modern photos of queer couples and individuals in creative settings, and a handful of snapshots of eclectic objects or vibrant collages.
The exhibit highlights several queer icons and role models such as acclaimed author Gertrude Stein and her life partner Alice B. Toklas; actress, singer, and trans activist Christine Jorgensen; and Annie Sprinkle who is an advocate for sex work and founder of the sexecology environmental activism movement. Besides Gonzales-Day’s own work, pieces from the following contemporary artists are also present: Laura Aguilar, Ohan Breiding ’06, Bruce of Los Angeles, Claude Cahun, Tammy Rae Carland, Rick Castro, Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, Naima Green, John K. Hillers, Taizo Kato, Molly Landreth ’01, Bob Mizer, Pierre Molinier, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Catherine Opie, Marcel Pardo Ariza, Pau S. Pescador, George Quaintance, Pacifico Silano, Annie Sprinkle, Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, and Austin Young.
Although Gonzales-Day had the idea for “Queer-ish” in the back of his mind for some time, the recent spike in anti- LGBTQ+ legislation inspired him to act. “Dozens of state legislatures are attempting to turn back the clock on decades of civil rights progress,” he said. “Recent global estimates suggest that 83% of those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, must keep their orientation hidden for their safety.”
The exhibition aims to promote increased awareness and understanding of gender identity and how photographic practices have shaped LBGTQ+ history. In recent years, anti-LGBTQ+ activists in California have demanded a repeal in LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and there have been a record number of anti-LGBTQ+, specifically anti-trans bills.
Amidst the fear and ongoing struggle the queer community faces to love and live freely, Gonzales-Day’s gallery encourages people to reflect on concepts of identity within a queer space. The first category, “Touch,” depicts what it means to physically embrace queerness through human contact and the historic and present risks of these actions. This flows into the idea of “Portrait”: how these displays of affection and intimacy form perspectives on representation and self representation.
Another idea the exhibit explores is the “Queer Imaginary,” which Gonzales-Day explains is the meshing of frameworks that are applied to queerness. “Drawing on Jean-Paul Sartre’s notion of the imaginary as well as Judith Butler’s concept of performative identity,” said Gonzales-Day. “It posits queerness as a generative personal and cultural space that is exploratory, celebratory, precarious, unseen, fluid, and always changing.”
This leads into the final aspect of the show, “Acting Out,” which presents how people perform or present their personal experiences with queerness. This takes the form of dressing in drag or the ways in which one chooses to display their body.
Although the gallery covers a variety of diverse, innovative, and beautiful queer stories, all of them share a common thread that weaves them together: resilience. Gonzales-Day notes that despite the issues that arise for representation of the queer community, his gallery and the work of its contributors aim to remind the queer community that they are not alone, and their identities should always be celebrated.
“The exhibition and related programming acknowledge and celebrate queerness and its myriad expressions,” he said. “They also remind those who wish queer people harm that love is universal and timeless.”
Image Source: Ellen Hu ’24