Taking a “Pink & Bent” Look at Art

 
 

The exhibition Pink & Bent: The Art of Queer Women,
on display at the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation in New York City through June 28, delivers a
rare and significant survey of lesbian art and artists from the 1970s through
today.

Pink & Bent features the work of nearly 50 queer and feminist
artists, including notable names such as Judy Chicago,
Harmony Hammond, Phranc,
and Joan E. Biren, and emerging talents including Allyson Mitchell and Maria Tsaguriya. Paintings,
photography, sculpture, drawings and mixed media mingle on the walls, where
they grapple with topics like gender roles,
self-identity, the masculine and the feminine, and self-representation.

If that sounds ambitious,
it’s meant to be.

"I really wanted for
the exhibit in general to be provocative, create questions and stir up thought,"
explained Pilar Gallego, who spearheaded Pink
& Bent
with her co-curator, Cora Lambert. Both of them are also artists
and have works in the exhibition. "We really wanted to make it a
monumental exhibition in terms of being inclusive and having different artists."


Photo: Becca Bradley, Lover

That principle of inclusion
extends into many areas, most obviously the curators’ choice of the open-ended
term "queer" to describe the exhibition. Despite that preference,
another popular word for women who love women appears rather conspicuously in
seven huge wooden letters that spell out "LESBIAN." Placed off to
the side, near the gallery entrance where its bulk could be accommodated, it is
the only work in the show contributed by a biological man, the deceased George
Dudley.

While a variety of
artists and mediums are represented in Pink
& Bent
, also emphasized is a range of ages, cultures, regions,
aesthetics and levels of artistic accomplishment and commercial success. True
to the feminist impulse that informs queer women’s art, the show aims above all
to bring visibility to individuals and issues that often go unseen or get
suppressed, whether in the art world establishment or on the graffitied,
activist streets. Queer women from both spheres contribute to the exhibition.

Maria Tsaguriya, Untitled, 2007

Photos used with permission of the artists.

"This show is a safe
space in which gay artists don’t have to censor their artwork," said Lambert,
who consulted her own list of superheroes in order to develop the impressive
roster of participating artists. "They can be who they are and say what
they want."

Gallego echoed her
co-curator’s point about the imperative for dialogue, particularly in 2008, a
potent political year with much at stake for queer women.

"The story behind
the work is very important," she said. "We need to validate the
stories that are quiet. It’s about voices."

With almost 50 voices
represented in the show, and with some of those artists speaking through more
than one piece of work, the conversation can seem overwhelming at times,
although the unusual opportunity to see queer women’s work collected in one
place remains consistently gratifying. Because of the co-curators’ extensive
commitment to inclusion, visitors may find themselves asking what, if any,
common thread exists among such a widely diverse community of queer women
artists.

In addition, as many
lesbians probably recognize all too well, defining the parameters of a
community can present a thorny task. Who are the members? What traits do they
share in common? How can individuals embrace their uniqueness and still
maintain a coherent group identity?

That impulse to inquiry
can feel frustrating, until one concedes that provoking questions about
community is precisely the point of Pink
& Bent
. So, what holds it all together?

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