In ‘Where We Find Ourselves,’ queerness intersects with the everyday

Where We Find Ourselves features 'Smoke,' by photographer Jamil Hellu.

When we look in the mirror, what we see is a consequence of interior landscape as well as the world we live in. This may be especially true for members of the LGBTQ community, and it’s the substance of Where We Find Ourselves, an exploration of how queer individuals view themselves, as influenced by mainstream culture.  The exhibit, now at Open Lens Gallery, is cosponsored by the University of the Arts (UArts) and the Gershman Y.

Adaptation, subversion, defiance

“Queer individuals, and especially the trans community, consider identity every time they look in the mirror,” explains curator Jordan Rockford, UArts senior lecturer and academic advisor. “If no one questions your identity, you don’t question it. If you are queer, you are confronted with questions.” Depending on the individual, the response may be adaptation, subversion, or defiance.

Rockford originally curated the exhibit for the Woodland Gallery at Penn State University-Abington. “I wanted to make this a show for [those] students because diversity is really visible there and, I think, very positive.”

Besides inspiration, PSU-Abington committed enough funding to enable Rockford to bring art from all over the United States. “That really changed the game,” he says. “I spent a year honing it down. . . . I wanted to examine how queerness exists in the United States. All of the artists are working here, but we have different religious backgrounds and different ethnic backgrounds.” Photographer Jamil Hellu, whose Smoke (2015) is the exhibit’s signature image, is of Syrian descent, born and raised in Brazil, and is now an American citizen.

Common ground for all identities

Funding from UArts made it possible to bring Where We Find Ourselves to Center City, where it can be seen by a wider audience.

Though just 14 pieces, the exhibit includes photography, painting, video, digital collage, and mixed media. Rockford intends it to resonate with viewers regardless of orientation. “I want queer individuals to see a reflection, and maybe to challenge how they see themselves and how they form different identities. I want those who are not queer to understand how queerness interlaces with their lives and to see how we all share a common ground in forming identity.”

Ultimately, we all see more than just ourselves when we look in the mirror.

Where We Find Ourselves, presented by UArts and the Gershman Y, is running at the Open Lens Gallery (401 South Broad Street, Philadelphia) through May 12. The show is free and open to the public, with viewing hours Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm, and Sunday from 9am to 2pm.