Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review: Loaded and subtle discourses in Queer Artists’ exhibitions

A group exhibition by Hispanic gay visual artists and a solo show by a lesbian photographer showcased the current issues that populate the work of queer artists in San Francisco. "Maria: Politics. Sex. Death. Men." on view at Galeria de la Raza ending Friday, and "An Archive of Feelings" at Silverman Gallery through July 26, offer an inspiring and interesting collection of images that resonate both in and outside of the gay community.

"Maria" is a multimedia exhibition by Keith Aguilar, Roberto Guzman, Ernesto Soprani, Jody Jock, Jonathan Solo and the brothers Allan and Leo Herrera. It is part of the Annual Queer Latino Arts Festival and includes photography, video, drawing and installations to illustrate the experience of growing up gay in the local Hispanic community. While the title of the exhibition is an obvious wink at the virgin mother, she is nowhere to be found in the show specifically, yet the common thread amongst the artwork on display at the Mission gallery is still religion.

The pieces that deal with this aspect of Latino culture are the most successful of this collection: Jonathan Solo’s "Glory Hole," a laconic and effective assemblage that would irritate many a priest were they to see the show, Ernesto Sopprani’s "CBT," a text installation built around the definition of homosexuality, and finally Allan Herrera’s colorful "Touch Me," a sculptural installation made up of--what else--pink condoms.
In the accompanying essay for the exhibition, curator Leo Herrera (half of the Homochic collective), says that: "gay and Hispanic cultures are incredibly similar in the way that immigration, polarizing politics and unchecked consumerism have left both with a deep loss of cultural identity." This aspect is better explained by the addition of the words "Politics. Sex. Death. Men" to the title than by the glossy photographic pieces included in the show. It is not clear where both cultures intersect and how the experience of growing up as a homosexual man from Latino descent in San Francisco has permeated or is explicitly present in the work of these artists. While visually compelling and technically accomplished, these pieces attain cohesiveness as a collection of personal accounts by gay Latino artists more than as visual support for a loaded rhetoric.

On the other hand, the photographic constructions of Tammy Rae Carland in "An Archive of Feelings" are a subtle and evocative illustration of life and love that transcend the gay sphere. Culled from a personal assortment of objects that have a particular meaning for her, these items appear before our eyes in a flat and literal manner that is a welcome yet discreet invitation to speculate about their origin and relationship to the artist.

Carland, an Oakland based photographer with a steady presence during the past decade in the national queer art scene, has put together a new body of work that feels like a departure of sorts from her previous projects. She is using digital photography for the first time and is also isolating the subject of her photographs from their original surroundings. The domestic flair that made her earlier work so quietly alluring is definitely present in the pieces that comprise "Archive" even if the exhibition as a whole feels more cerebral and minimalistic.

Creating a taxonomy from her personal museum of conserved mementos, Carland sets up the portions of an incomplete, on-going and open ended narrative that is a delight for the observer to follow or just stare at. While the smaller pieces serve as anecdotes or more peculiar stories, the bigger collections of objects (there are three such pieces at Silverman Gallery’s new downtown space) create fables that have the enduring appeal of grandmotherly bedtime stories.

It is always great to see the work of homosexual artists outside of the usual queer enclaves that keep these discourses from reaching a wider and more heterogeneous audience. Both "Maria: Politics. Sex. Death. Men." and "An Archive of Feelings" flaunt museum-worthy art that deal with the travails of gay life in atypical and challenging ways.

The Queer Latino Arts Festival reopens at Galeria de la Raza July 11 with "Narrating Identity, (Dis)locating Bodies." Partipating artists include Monica Enriquez-Enriquez, Sonali Gulati, Vanessa Huang, Mujeres y Cultura Subterránea (Ines Morales and Susana Quiroz) and Rebeka Rodriguez. For more information on the exhibit, see .www.galeriadelaraza.org. For information on the Silverman Gallery, visit .www.silverman-gallery.com.

Jano Cortijo is a professional homemaker. Between ironing long and short sleeved shirts, making salads and fried rice, he manages to find time to take pictures, make videos and write.

Originally printed here: http://www.edgesanfrancisco.com/index.php?ch=entertainment&sc=fine_arts&sc2=&sc3=exhibits&id=76946

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