Despite what recent sex-ed protests outside the provincial legislature might suggest, Ontario has historically been a bastion for gay rights. Along with being the third jurisdiction in the world and the first in North America to recognize marriage equality, the province has been a leader in this area, passing anti-bullying legislation, adding gender identity and expression to its human rights code, and outlawing gay conversion therapy.
This environment has clearly been fertile ground for queer artists to live and create, something members of the Ontario Public Service Pride Network wanted to highlight.
“We were interested in how artists in the province have been examining these issues in their work, and how they’re part of the public conversation around inclusion,” says exhibition coordinator Kevin Cherry. “Ultimately it’s a celebration of a place where self-expression, equality and inclusion are valued to the extent that an exhibition like this can even happen in a gallery housed in a government building.”
Curated through an open call for submissions, Queer Landscapes, Queer Journeys includes works by 30 artists from across the province. As diverse in medium, as it is in theme, the show includes painting, drawing, photographs, video, and sculpture. Shane Patrick McClurg’s digital painting Cool Kids uses cartoon-like characters to speak about bullying. Brad McDermott’s series of Health Class illustrations address his feelings around the lack of gay sex education during his high school years. And Mariam Magsi’s video essay TRANS:formation examines the space between preconceived notions of gender through a gender transformation.
The idea for the show first got tossed around over a year ago as a potential event for WorldPride. But quickly realizing they were too late in the game to find space for such a large undertaking, the team opted to hold off until this year, giving more time to plan and better options for venues. While a few of them had arts backgrounds, none had professional curatorial experience, which made for a steep learning curve at times.
“It’s been an eye-opening process in terms of understanding what goes into putting something like this together,” Cherry says. “I don’t think any of us fully anticipated how much work it was going to be. I can definitely say I have a newfound respect for professional curators.”
While the exhibition was based around the idea of celebrating Ontario as place of inclusion, recent events have lent an odd resonance to the space where it’s showing. The team had selected the John B Aird Gallery at Queen’s Park as their venue; the site of last week’s homophobic and transphobic protests around the province’s new sex-ed curriculum.
So have the unexpected expressions of hatred shaken their feelings about their beloved region’s stance on gay rights?
“It’s surprising and shocking to see something like that happening in Ontario,” Cherry says. “I guess if nothing else, it shows us that on the subject of inclusion and acceptance there’s still much more work to be done.”
Queer Landscapes, Queer Journeys: Reflections of LGBTQ Rights and Struggles in Ontario Today
runs until Friday, June 26, 2015
John B Aird Gallery, Queen’s Park, Macdonald Block, 900 Bay St, Toronto
Admission is free
“Delirious Scroll 1” by Andy Fabo, “Red Rock” by Michel Dumont, “Yellow Trees” by Jonathan Brett, “TRANS:formation” by Mariam Magsi, “Cool Kids” by Shane Patrick McClurg, “Flow” by Pamela Dodds