Pride, as an idea, concept, and movement has never been as diverse, pronounced, and occasionally corporate than ever before in 2019. And this has so much to do with recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising that took place this very week, back in June of 1969.
Also, because of the anniversary, releases and reassessments that uphold and uncloak queer culture, in the name of Pride, such as the documentary Wig and exhibits including The Met’s CAMP: Notes on Fashion, and the Museum of Fine Arts’ Gender Bending Fashion are making the uniquely political and progressive aspects of Pride, gay culture, and queer and non-binary influences accessible to the masses.
With that said, though Pride is experiencing ubiquity, companies and brands not yet fully integrated with queer culture looking to pay homage are still depending on ol’ faithful when doing so: rainbows on rainbows and massive amounts of glitter. Only Lisa Frank in the 1990s did such gaudy happiness better!
While understandably, a quotidian office building may not be as willing to post homoerotic art for Pride Month in its hallways, and rainbows and glitter certainly transfer the Pride message loud and crystal clear, it also may sometimes sell Pride and its honorees short.
Gay, or as the initialism that’s gotten more inclusive in the past few years, is not one motif or look. Sometimes LGBT, LGBTQ+, LGBTQIA can be minimalistic, exhibiting a quiet lust and chill (think: Tracy Chapman). Black vinyl and naughty (BDSM, that one Village People member whose role was as a New York City Leatherman). And at its most fun: neon, free-spirited, and spreading belly-aching laughter and wisdom for all (the legendary, RuPaul).
Pride is all of that and more, and the art this mantra has inspired (year-round) is the backbone of PRIED, an exhibition at the Society of Arts and Crafts, on view until Sunday, June 30.
Curated by Boston LGBTQIA Artist Alliance member Izzy Berdan and Artist Alliance co-founder Dave J. Bermingham, their statement, both online and in person, implores the process of rethinking Pride and queer art created by queer talents.
“This annual Pride Month may be embraced by some as a means of release, hedonism, and validation, but for many queer, trans, and non-binary persons, it is an opportunity to question notions of queerness, community, sexuality, and our place within the public and private realms of our respective societies. PRIED celebrates and recognizes the individuals who create works that may or may not be made based around the image of a queer person, just as any other maker is not limited to creating works about their own identity.”
Featuring art by his co-curator Bermingham, the Society’s own Sam Aldrich, and a handful of Boston and east coast-based artists, in Berdan’s own words, and with an undercurrent of social commentary, he detailed a motley of the artwork, as the gamut was admirably hilarious, personal, and unpredictable.
Below is my exchange for Boston Hassle with the vivacious curator.
Boston Hassle: What is this?
Izzy Berdan: This is a head sculpture piece by Maxine [Hwang] Blomberg, titled, “Ye Old Bergina Collar”! So it is a full-on vagina cover! (He goes behind the huge piece, hanging from the ceiling, and places it over his head).To remind people of where we came from.
I don’t know if this was made before Janelle Monae’s “Pink.” But reference-wise, it’s on the money. It could’ve been a part of that music video! Also, JM is one of my girls. I love her. She makes me happy when skies are gray.
BH: And these undies with the tennis balls [“Tennis Panties” (2016)] in them?
IB: Maria Molteni! She’s more of an experimental artist.
BH: There is something very ‘80s and early ‘90s about the patterns.
IB: And the fringe, the materials! She definitely played a lot with this athletic, masculine meets feminine construct, and as “Tennis Panties,” it is outerwear. It’s holding balls to the side the same way you would put them in your tennis shorts. Which is something I didn’t realize until the last time I watched a tennis game and I was like, “Okay. That’s why their shorts are so baggy!”
And I think that’s the other aspect of why she went with this medium. The sport of tennis is so refined and polished, and especially within this last year, with Serena Williams getting extricated for wearing her catsuit instead of a skirt. It’s like, no, it’s about the sport, not how she’s dressed. Her wearing a catsuit doesn’t give her an advantage on the tennis court. There are no powers in it! That’s all muscle.
BH: The catsuit was just a bonus for us that live for the fashion!
BH: Alright. Now, this! [J. Morrison’s “Free Butt Sex!” (2015)].
IB: (Laughs) Yes! This is a really, really fun artist, based out of Brooklyn, J. Morrison. He has a whole series on cats, and the category is called “HOMOCATS.” A bunch of limited edition screenings with these fun sayings on them such as “Free Butt Sex!” He also has one that says “TRUMP IS OVER!” He’s hyper-political. So there’s this mix of kitsch, gay camp art meets politics. He uses the illustration of, say, a familiar cat and this gay culture and femininity, mashed up with, “But oh! I’m making political statements about the world!” From violence, war, and government, through adorable illustrations.
This is also another one of his pieces [featuring “Dot Men”]. It’s like his disposable American flag. They’re literally silk screens [from the waist up, of nude men kissing] on paper towels [in white, red, and blue, separately].
BH: And these [“Dom,” (2017); “Tutti Frutti,” (2017); Jasjyat,” (2018); “Dusty,” (2016)] are really beautiful.
IB: Rebecca Levi. Really, really great queer artist out of New York. Originally, she started her artwork in different mediums, but would always collect these nostalgic publications, such as physique magazines from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s that were dimestore, printed on paper, but also nice and small so they can be concealed. Porn but not porn because we didn’t quite have that medium yet.
BH: Like body-builder-type magazines.
IB: Exactly! She was originally drawn to that, and slowly picked up other iconographies through these sub-societal communities. At one point, she decided she wanted to start mashing up some of her embroidery work and include those different characters. She taught herself how to embroider and its different styles. She has a few series based on beards [as is on display at the Society].
BH: [“Jasjyat”] reminds me of that guy [Jiwandeep Kohli, a baker and brain scientist that identifies as a bisexual] that wore that rainbow turban.
IB: (Nodding) Another reason why I love this “Beards” collection is that it’s a celebration of how different we are but also how we’re all the same. Right now, there’s this huge push for diversity and inclusion within America and it’s great. But at the same time, I feel like we’re getting pushback. You’ll hear people say, “You know, it’s all everybody wants to talk about now! Brown people! Queer people! Trans people!” And it’s because you haven’t talked about us. Ever. So sit the fuck down. Let me talk. You can listen. Because I’ve been listening to your white nonsense my entire life. So sit down!
BH: I tell people, it feels like it’s coming out of the woodworks because people felt like they had to be hidden and shield themselves. Being trans and queer is nothing new! I can understand that it feels like a lot. But there’s a reason it’s a lot.
IB: There has to be a lot! One of the things I try to remind people and a lot of the way I live now is that you should be the person you needed or wanted to be when you were younger. It’s about visibility. When I was a little kid growing up in south Texas, I didn’t see gay people anywhere. I barely saw brown people on television! Nothing on television told me it was okay to be gay. Flamboyant. That art is cool. Colors look great on guys. So trust me. Somebody needs to hear this, somewhere in the world, that it’s okay to be trans, queer, and browner than white.
BH: Now these [“Masc 4 Mask,” and “Boys Will Be Girls,” (2018)]. Let me gather my thoughts because I know this is random! But [these banners] reminded me of how in teen shows and movies, there was sometimes that closeted jock. Why do they remind me of that!
IB: Good call! These are by Brian Kenny. We all have these different communities that we exist in, our own bubbles within the separate subversives of being queer. Sometimes they crossover, and sometimes they don’t. For a vast part of his life, Brian was experiencing this hyper-masculine, jock world. And [kind of] because of the way he looks. He’s this beautiful, tall, athletic, muscular white boy. Normally, when you see that, there are other things you categorize with it.
So here [on 67 x 27.5 inches banners] we’ve got sports shorts, tank tops, sneakers, and jockstraps. Brian took those heavy stereotypes and deconstructed the jerseys and re-created art out of it. A really, brilliant artist. And there’s like a dozen of these and some are also wearable because they’re made out of clothes. They can transform into physical art. I’m living for a poncho y’all!
BH: So. This.
IB: Our little table of play? [Consisting of felt-made butt plugs, anal beads, accompanied by harnesses by Nic Der]. By Jamezie, they [are transgender, and use the pronouns they/them,] are a multimedia artist, and when Dave and I were trying to think of pieces to showcase for PRIED, Jamezie mentioned how they were trying to come up with this idea of a sex toy made out of felted wool. We were like one hundred percent, “Yes.” Come forth with this full vision, please.
It was also a great opportunity to have a conversation about sex and the positivity of it and the fun-ness of it without the heaviness of those deemed taboos that we’ve always felt from family, religion, community, or schools. It’s okay. Sex is a physical thing, we are physical animals. We can have fun.
BH: It definitely makes the idea of sex more fun, and even strange, but in a fun way.
IB: Right. And for the record, these are art pieces. They’re not meant for actual use! But a lot of the exhibition is also about telling stories and sharing dialogue. They’re just so fun and great. Communication and conversation only make things in our lives better.
BH: It’s finding the strangeness and humor of sex. And this is slightly inappropriate, but the display also reminds me of Dr. Seuss. [The set-up and colors] are very Whoville!
IB: Oh absolutely! (Taking one of the butt plugs, Berman squeezes it as a stress reliever ball). I always want to make sure that people feel that it’s okay to be goofy, have fun, make mistakes, and ask weird questions.
Further down our stroll, it became clear that PRIED could be viewed in three parts. The first, Berman described as having “A lot more color, and glitter. We start off as crazy colorful. Hyper-rainbow, laughs, and giggles. [Over here is] like our domestic area!”
Said (and second) area was a wall and set-up that included a violin made by local violinist Emmett Yael, and dolls that resembled its artist Caleb Cole, and Cole also ingeniously formed a flower-esque creation with his “Bullet-proof, vintage leather gloves in lipstick cases. Aren’t they hot!” Berdan exclaimed. “For a woman in the 1950s, this was like her [armor]. A good lipstick and good leather gloves–you were out the door!”
As we headed towards the third and last part of PRIED, with artwork that leaned on the historical and nods to folklore, Berdan said, “ Makers come from all shapes and forms. We’ve got queer cabinet makers, chair makers, those that book bind, and make homemade blankets. We wanted to show that there is artistry and craftsmanship in everything we make. Whether utilitarian or exclusively fine art.”
BH: I feel like for most visitors, including myself, we’re so much more familiar with the kind of queer art [in the first part].
IB: And then it’s like, how do any of these art pieces cross into other worlds, and how did that artist perceive their work, and then how did that become a part of this show? And that’s when you start diving into intellectual concepts of queerness and the lives that we’ve led and how they got here.
Robert Chamberlin is a great example. This series, [featuring “Light My Fire 50, “Light My Fire 44,” (2015)] I saw in 2015. They’re glory holes [the kind most associated with sex clubs of the past and erotic or pornographic peep shows]. He designed these beautiful little frames made of porcelain. Glory holes exclusively live in this hypersexualized environment and he took them from that world and made them pretty, pristine and delicate.
BH: When you look at them, you don’t see their former selves.
IB: And for that reason, they’re at the correct height [considering their installation on the wall]!
BH: And what’s going on on this wall? [Referring to Matt Lambert’s rustic and tribal aesthetic, and a half-glitter coated football by ANDREW MROCZEK & JUAN JOSE BARBOZA-GUBO].
IB: Matt Lambert is an artist who likes to play with history and vintage pieces. In his past life, he worked as a vintage rug restorer and then also as a leathersmith. So a lot of these are examples of how he’s taken his craft and what used to be. For example, this [Aztec-printed face mask] was made out of scraps, such as rugs that he couldn’t fix or didn’t have enough material to make another item out of.
And again, everything here still plays into that world of sexuality crossing over into history and appreciating the cultural references and what we’re now accepting in our fetish world. Like, you might’ve seen or thought this garment or tool only existed in one world before, but existed in multiple people’s cultures before. We just arrived at the same place and used them for different purposes. Lambert’s also just a genius craftsman.
After the PRIED tour ended, I made my return to a ceramic piece by “the father of American ceramics” Mark Burns, that starred a photo from his boyhood, and comic strip characters Little Lulu and Tubby Hopkins. Surrounding me was music courtesy of a Spotify Gay Anthems playlist that the Society played in the background the entire time, and as I peered closer at Burns’ work, I heard “YMCA” by the Village People commence.
PRIED will be at the Society of Arts and Crafts through June 30. More information on the gallery and the exhibition can be found at www.societyofcrafts.org