“We’re going to have to cancel a significant part of the event,” a dispirited Jeff Gibson tells Xtra West Jul 30, the same day this city’s most ambitious and comprehensive Pride in Art festival to date was supposed to proudly throw open its doors.
“I have to tell you how disappointed we are. I mean, this event belongs during the Pride festivities. This is a setback for us,” says the president of the Pride in Art Society, adding that citizens of the city are losing out in lots of ways because of the strike.
“We’ve lost a venue, these 25 visual artists have been preparing for months if not years for this event. Performers have been rehearsing like crazy over the last few months to get ready. And all those people are not able to showcase their talent,” to express themselves and share their expressions with others in the community, Gibson says.
This year’s Pride in Art festival, originally scheduled to run for 16 days over Pride at the Roundhouse Community Centre, was supposed to offer a new twist on gender, as queer artists and performers alike presented their takes on gender identity within the queer community and beyond.
“I really feel that if you miss this year’s Pride in Art Festival, you’ll be missing a great show,” Gibson said just a few weeks ago.
Now the festival’s art exhibit has been postponed to October and its performances are being re-routed or simply slipping into limbo.
“The thing in October is not going to be the same,” says Gibson. “Though I think we’ll make the best of it, obviously. But it’s not going to be the same. It’s not happening during the Pride festivities.”
Gibson says he considered moving the exhibit to a new venue during Pride but couldn’t find one large enough to accommodate all the art. He even thought about breaking the show into three venues, but still couldn’t fit in all the pieces, he says.
Building on last year’s addition of live performances to the visual art offerings, Gibson says he wanted to up the ante for 2007, as well as add some intrigue with the Gender Twist theme. The theme resonated strongly with many of the organizers.
“At first, we were nervous because, really, what does gender mean? Is it sexuality? Well, we began to realize that gender and sexuality might be related, but they aren’t the same,” he says. “And that started opening up ideas of how you can interpret gender. So some of our artists have interpreted gender along the lines of the male and female image, while others looked at the role it plays in society.
“But we wanted to make sure there was a queer perspective on it as well,” he notes. “How is it interpreted in queer society? How would an intersex person interpret it, or a transgendered person who has gone through a process —how do they interpret gender? All of the works showcase that.”
Of the numerous art pieces selected for the 2007 festival, each one takes a look at gender in a unique and personal way. Media range from paint to photography to three-dimensional craft work.
“Shaira Holman’s piece, called Stealing Masculinity, is a 12-photograph series of a woman going from female to male,” Gibson points out. “In Mary Taylor’s piece, called Homophobia Kills, it looks at the amount of violence that is targeted towards males and females because of their gender. For those that have been targeted for violence, were they targeted for their sexuality or were they targeted for their gender? Sometimes, it’s both.”
Other pieces offer a more humorous look at how we all arrive at our gender perceptions and what role our own personal biases play in determining how we frame gender in our own minds.
“I’m using battle fatigues as a metaphor for behaviour I see myself engaging in when I assert my identity, and what my motives are when I say, ‘I am an artist’ or ‘I am a lesbian’ or ‘I am queer,’ says Pride in Art board member and contributor Katherine Atkins.
“There is always a subtext going on for me,” she explains. “I’m trying to establish myself on a hierarchy of some kind and I feel that I’ve been trained to do that, to put value on identity. Things like: a woman is less than a man, or a white person is more than a person of colour, or an educated person is more than a non-educated person.
“When I graduated from Emily Carr, I was working on my resume, I noticed I had this little feeling when I added BFA to my resume —that I’m now better than I was before,” she confides, “and I wondered what’s that about? What does that mean about our culture?”
Now in its ninth year, Atkins says the Pride in Art festival is one of the largest and most respected queer art festivals in Canada. While creating art and exhibiting it in the annual show is important, she says, the real motivating factor is simply helping queer artists get seen.
“I have heard from other artists who have been out that it isn’t easy to get exhibited,” she explains. “They have significant work that can’t get acknowledged in some places because they identify as queer.
“My only guess as to why this happens is that it has to do with money. Art has definitely become a commercial market,” she says. “A gallery owner or a curator that doesn’t think they can sell your work —it doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, it all comes down to can they make money by promoting you or not. If you’re presenting yourself as a queer artist, it could reduce the chance that your work is marketable.”
Some people may be getting complacent about gay rights and visibility, Atkins notes, as if it’s no longer important to showcase queer artists and ideas. “But they don’t realize that those rights we’ve fought for can be pulled out from under us at any time.”
—With files from Robin Perelle