June is Pride Month and a few galleries along the Wasatch Front are taking the opportunity to showcase the works of local LGBTQIA+ artists. One of these is Salt Lake City’s Urban Arts Gallery, located in the Gateway. The Gateway itself seems to be rebranding as a queer-friendly space, with rainbow stairs, art galleries, and pride banners. The exhibition, SLC Queer curated by Madazon Can-Can, explores various aspects of the queer experience, from friendship and community within LGBTQIA+ spaces, to feelings of rebirth and renewal, to explorations of hate and discrimination.
Several of the paintings shown in the gallery illustrate different parts of queer love. Emma Goldgar’s “From What I’ve Tasted of Desire” depicts two figures: the first is painted in an icy blue, neck outstretched and lips slightly parted in an expression of bliss; the second figure is painted in shades of orange and gold with a head that is angled towards the extended blue neck as if to kiss it. The painting is passionate, a feature accentuated by the texture in the work — fine lines and drips of paint accentuate the figures like flame tendrils on the gold figure and drops of condensation on the blue one. The work’s title comes from the apocalyptic musings of Robert Frost, who pondered if the earth would perish through flame or ice. Frost’s conclusion is, that while desire, like fire, can kill quickly, it may not last. However, if it was not enough, ice, or hate, would suffice. In the context of LGBTQIA+ experiences, this meaning could be construed another way. Since discrimination against queer folks has been rampant throughout modern history, the misconception is that being queer is world-ending — either causing suicide or eventual damnation. However, it is not a person’s identity that marginalizes them, it’s how they are treated by others. Hate is deadly and lastingly destructive, not desire.
Another artist’s work featured at Urban Arts is Mitch Crandell’s series, which playfully illustrates male figures and dating culture. Titles include “Ghosting,” “Yo Selfie” and “Watching Televison,” which depicts, from behind, a nude male figure in Rodin’s classic “thinker” pose. Crandell uses traditional materials and the Procreate graphics editor to create mixed-media collages. Using a digital medium places Crandell’s figure in a digital space, making them snapshots of individuals cropped to fit a limited rectangle. The gallery setup is reminiscent of a dating app, particularly Grindr, with the viewer taking on the gay male gaze, flipping through male figures in body-baring, provocative poses.
For three-dimensional work, Molly E. M. Kain’s “War on My Body” is a visceral piece. It is a white, headless bust with punctured, blackened breasts, with red dashes underneath that suggest the scars left by top surgery. Kain’s work shows the violence trans individuals experience because of their bodies, the very real and physical danger it can be to be out and trans. One could also read it as an allusion to the state and federal registration that allows doctors to deny care to patients based on their gender identity, even basic care that is not associated with gender-affirming surgery or care. The war on trans bodies extends to gender-segregated bathrooms, sports, and public facilities, where the safety of children is used as a scapegoat to discriminate and enact physician and psychological violence against trans individuals. In reality, trans people are the ones who usually have to fear for their safety, as anger towards them is manifested in unfair and dangerous legislation and practice.
Hannah Olivia also contributed a three-dimensional work, “Don’t Judge a Wife by Her Cover”: a book, its black cover decorated with white crosses, is spread open to show the colors of the bi flag on the inside. Olivia’s piece explores the concept of bisexual invisibility, where bi individuals are labeled as either “gay” or “straight” based on their romantic partner or, equally bad, that bisexuality is a phase while someone figures out their “real” sexuality. This can also cause bisexual individuals to feel unvalidated or unwelcomed by both the straight and gay communities. Discounting bisexuality can also lead to bi identities becoming fetishized for threesomes or else ignored. The understated, binary pattern on the cover of the book is in sharp contrast with the flowing pale colors inside, reminding us that even if a bisexual individual is in a particular relationship at a particular time, their sexuality is still multi-hued. It is also a reminder of how society views heterosexuality as the norm, to the detriment of both the straight and gay communities.
The work displayed in SLC Queer is a deep dive into the personal and collective experiences of the Salt Lake LGBTQIA+ community. It is also a good opportunity to showcase the work of new artists who are part of that community and diversify the work shown in Utah galleries.
SLC Queer, Urban Arts Gallery, Salt Lake City, through June 28, with a gallery stroll reception on Friday, June 18th from 6-9pm.