Showing Face: A Cross-Generational Queer Art Project
In 2014 to 2015 I developed and managed a project with a group of partners, participants young and old, and artists to create a collaborative and interdisciplinary public art project that explored contemporary LGBTQ identity and experiences in Philadelphia.
Showing Face was a year-long, cross-generational collaborative art project that brought together four seemingly disparate community organizations: the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the Attic Youth Center, the John C Anderson Apartments, and the William Way Community Center. Recognizing a generational disconnect in the LGBTQ community, these partners brought together young millennials for whom visibility has become the norm, and an older generation that struggled for representation, acceptance, and legitimacy in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Artists Ashley Kolodner and Brandon Dean led an arts-based curriculum where various forms of art making became tools for forging community and exploring identity. Conversations illuminated the hardships of both youth and seniors, the often untold history of the LGBTQ movement, and the intersectionality endemic to queer identities. The goal of the project was to situate the contemporary queer experience in its larger context of an intensely oppressive past and give youth the opportunity to reflect upon their moment in history, all the while fostering a lasting relationship between the youth and their elders.
The artwork created through this project was disseminated through several channels with the intent of making ripples in the spaces where we encounter representations of queerness and queer people. The photographs produced by Ashley Kolodner and youth were formulated into a campaign temporarily installed on 30 billboards and 12 bus shelters throughout Philadelphia. The purpose of the campaign was to show the diversity and breadth of experience in the LGBTQ community by bringing the inwardly focused topics of conversations and workshops to public space through a visual platform. Kolodner's photo series is a part of a larger campaign she has been working on since 2011. Each individual who participated had two portraits taken: eyes closed symbolizing their vulnerability and insecurity, and eyes open representing their pride and personality. Through workshops with Kolodner, youth created their own backgrounds for their portraits, allowing them to better define themselves through photographic representation
Brandon Dean and a facilitator from the Attic Youth Center led a series of meetings between students and seniors, focusing on intersectionalities such as race, class, and gender identity. Acknowledging the depth of history and experience at Anderson, residents also had a chance to share their stories with the Attic students. Dean led zine-making workshops during these gatherings and recorded conversations between youth and seniors. He created a book with pocket sleeves that catalogs student and senior produced zines. The book is meant to serve not as only documentation of the project's process, but also as an exploration of more nuanced content from youth and seniors' individual stories and conversations. Dean’s contribution was mass-produced and distributed at the project dedication as a companion to the portrait series.
To close the project, an exhibition was organized and installed at the William Way Community Center in July 2015. All the photographs of youth and senior participants from Ashley Kolodner's component, select photographs from Brandon Dean's book, and process shots capturing the last year were included in the exhibition. The photographs were gifted to participating youth and seniors as a tangible memory of the project after the show was de-installed.