Fifty years after the Stonewall Riots, a new exhibition developed by Da Vinci Art Alliance, juried by Warren Muller, and hosted at Lightbox Film Center examines the casual defiance and everyday activism within queer art, photography, and film. The subjects of each piece in Civil Disobedience: Celebrating Queer Narratives, whether a pot-smoking Pride-goer or a trio of stiletto-heeled men, radiate emotion. A snapshot captures their momentary celebration, but perhaps they weren’t always out and proud.
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a massive catalyst for the gay rights movement in the US. This exhibition honors the last half-century of activists with a group exhibition of queer multimedia artists working in photography, acrylics, oils, textiles, buttons, beads, and more.
Silence = Death
Dream House, a stunningly detailed collage by Julien Tomasello, invites you to examine five different scenes within one home. The eye strains to focus on the wallpaper, house plants, televisions, furniture, and residents, all composed of different fabrics and paper, meticulously layered and arranged. Each tiny paper figure holds a miniscule prop or reads a tiny magazine. Five panels stretch into a panoramic scene of a family home separated by pink borders, family members absorbed in their own choice of media. The TV screen reads “Silence = Death.” The piece brings generational conflict to mind, screaming fights that turn to stretches of silence between children and parents.
Bodies and minds
The human body emerges as a theme of this exhibit, explored through photography and acrylic paint. Figure Painting in Blue details a profile of a male-presenting form, etched by Jordi Sabate in three chocolate shades atop a bright blue backdrop. Julia Hodgson’s Still Here...Together depicts two nude female-presenting forms with electric splashes of color. Their cartoon eyes gaze beyond the viewer, arms encircling each other. It’s All About the Shoes… by Ellen Rosenberg is a playful street scene: three men in languid poses. Two wear impossibly high heels, while the third opts for more casual footwear. They laugh lightheartedly in spite of the ever-present threat of harassment, confronting the mindless hatred that a simple shoe choice can provoke.
Then (and then) and now
The Civil Disobedience opening featured a screening of the 1982 documentary Pink Triangles. In 35 minutes, it takes the viewer through more than 100 years of oppression and resistance, including people marginalized for their intersecting racial, religious, political, or sexual identities. Scare-tactic TV ads from the Moral Majority of the 1980s are juxtaposed with a Gay Speakers Bureau discussion about sexuality and institutional biases.
Civil Disobedience is more than an art exhibit. It is a uniquely uplifting space to take in real history. I was born in 1993. My junior prom was Lady Gaga-themed and gay as hell. It was no big deal when I kissed a girl. My friends and I watched Glee and shrugged—TV shows told us that living as a gay person in public was acceptable. We took that visibility for granted.
Philadelphia Gay News publisher and veteran commentator Mark Segal provided opening remarks at the gallery, reminding us that the right simply to live was hard-won by many—and is still gaining new momentum today.
What, When, Where
Civil Disobedience: Celebrating Queer Narratives. Curated by Da Vinci Art Alliance. Through June 29, 2019, at the East Alcove Gallery of Lightbox Film Center, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 895-6590 or davinciartalliance.org/dvaa-at-ihp.
Lightbox’s East Alcove Gallery is accessible by wheelchair.