Lesbian community artist Marika Jemma is unhappy after a piece that she worked on for the Around the Rainbow Project was not allowed to be shown at the organization’s Family Fun Day May 15.
It was the only work, out of more than a dozen, that was rejected by the group, which helps make safe spaces for children in gay and lesbian families.
“There are two wall pieces of different items of clothing, cast into rigid shapes that are wrinkly and folded together, but in a flowy and organic sort of way,” says Jemma, describing the finished artwork.
It was created by children and parents in foster families in conjunction with the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CAS). The fabric is painted with inspirational phrases, such as “families make the world go round” and “families help you walk through life.”
“It’s very proud and positive,” says Jemma.
She would not allow a picture to be taken of the piece however, because the piece’s ownership is contested.
Often, the only physical connection that children at CAS have to their biological families is the clothing that they arrive in.
“I certainly didn’t want to cast the clothing into something that looked like a pile of dirty laundry, but I still think that not allowing the work to be shown was a mistake,” says Jemma. “Just because someone is offended by the work doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be shown.”
While Jemma says that she does understand the concerns of the CAS, she is upset the project was singled out. All of the other art pieces were either physically present at the event, or represented visually or with text in the event’s program.
Wendy Ireland, project coordinator for Around the Rainbow, says that she agrees with the decision made by the CAS to restrict the piece from being publicly viewed.
“I think the piece is great – and poignant – but the idea that we wanted to have here was community art as a celebration,” she says. “I think that that particular piece may not really celebrate that, or evoke pride.”
One worker from CAS told Jemma that representing the clothing in a way that looks dirty or messy would evoke a negative response from the public, she says.
Calls made to CAS by Capital Xtra were forwarded to Ireland.
The goal of the Around the Rainbow Project is to confront confusion and ignorance about gay and lesbian families. It’s supposed to open up a dialogue, but in this particular case, it appears to be preventing a sensitive issue from being explained or understood.
“Suppressing the voices of children is contradictory to the work we’re doing,” says Jemma. “We can’t afford to be afraid of offending people, especially because of the kind of organization we are.”