A photo from Montreal transgender artist JJ Levine’s collection Alone Time. Photo courtesy of JJ Levine photo

Penticton Art Gallery exploring gender identity, sexuality

New exhibit at PAG opens March 24 with a big party and explores gender identity, sexuality

Come out, come out, whoever you are.

Paul Crawford, the curator at the Penticton Art Gallery, hopes that’s exactly what will happen when the gallery’s new exhibit exploring the LGBTQ community opens with a huge party on March 24.

“A topic sort of on my mind for awhile was gender and identity. It’s not just a topic for a show, not just a topic to do a show on, but it’s also a community alive and thriving, but in some ways still very hidden in the valley,” he said.

The show is called Ipseity, meaning individual identity and selfhood, focusing on gender identity and sexuality.

Crawford said he hopes through the exhibit, community party opening, and other events being held that a dialogue can open between those in and out of the LGBTQ community and perhaps “demystify misconceptions” and challenge societal noise.

Although he has many friends that identify as members of the LGBTQ community, he said as a straight, white male who grew up Catholic, he doesn’t have a full understanding of challenges and day-to-day realities for LGBTQ people in Canada and around the world.

“I find it really sad we still live in a very repressive society, and then I carry a lot of repression in my own life because of my upbringing. I like to think I try as much as possible to look at different viewpoints. It breaks my heart my friends are struggling to come out to parents and friends, there are hate crimes committed against the gay community all the time,” he said.

Although contributors to the show are still being found and some work will evolve during the duration of the exhibit, Crawford said several mediums of LGBTQ-identified artists will be represented.

Paintings by west coast artist A Raven Called Crow illustrate their personal journey and work to address, undo, untie, expel and dispel shame around not fitting into traditional gender roles.

A Raven Called Crow identifies as two-spirited, a First Nations term for a person who has both masculine and feminine spirit.

“So their work sort of touches on wrestling with that personal journey. A Raven Called Crow is also performing at the opening. They’re a musician, visual artist, poet, jack-of-all-trades type of artist,” Crawford said.

The exhibit also includes a series of gender-bending portraits from Montreal transgender artist JJ Levine. Using photos from Levine’s three major bodies of work Switch, Alone Time, and Queer Portraits gender stereotypes are explored. In Alone Time, for example, one model is used to portray both male and female subjects doing everyday things like brushing teeth or taking a shower. While works from Switch use two models with each in traditional male-female roles, and then each model’s gender is switched and the other way.

The exhibit also includes work from Pride House at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in 2010. Vancouver and Whistler were the first two communities to have a Pride House, a designated spot for LGBTQ athletes and allies to go during the games to celebrate and challenge homophobia in sports culture. Work from the Pride House explores discrimination faced by LGBTQ athletes and celebrates their triumphs.

Also included in the exhibit is work from Vancouver artist Patrick Kearns who explores body image in the gay community. The work includes photos of gay men and writings of what they feel is the worst thing about them.

“It’s really heartbreaking reading these guys stories,” he said. “It’s eye-opening to see how much of their self-worth and the buy-in in the community is based on image.”

The exhibit also explores international works from artists currently living in Turkey and Afghanistan. The artists are only identified by their first name for safety reasons as LGBTQ members in those countries often face death threats and expulsion from their families.

Hamed is an artist who was born in Afghanistan, sought refuge with his family in Iran during a civil war in the country in the late 80s and now resides in Turkey seeking refuge for being gay. His work was shown several years ago in another exhibit about Afghanistan at the Penticton gallery. Ali is a gay man living in Afghanistan.

“I thought it was interesting to put a global perspective on it. It looks at how different we are and how much narrative actually plays out the same. There’s still hate crimes against gays here. In Toronto, there is mass murdering that went on in the gay village and it turns out the man seems to have been targeting immigrants. I think we have a funny sense that we are far more evolved than the rest of the world.”

Crawford said he hopes Okanagan and Similkameen artists in the LGBTQ community will also contact the gallery with art to put on display throughout the exhibit. He also plans to do a portrait wall including pictures of those in the LGBTQ community and allies who want to have their picture put up and be counted.

The opening party on March 24 kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and includes performances by Rae Spoon, Parlour Panther, A Raven Called Crow, DJ Shakes, Premier Okanagan Drag Performers and will even include a wedding. Admission is by donation and the event is licensed.

Other events are planned during the run of the exhibit including a panel discussion in April. South Okanagan Similkameen Pride also brought Ivan Coyote, a well-known non-binary artist, out and is helping organize the upcoming community party and the opening of the new exhibit.

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An untitled piece of work on mixed media paper created in 2017 by Hamed who is currently a gay asylum seeker living in Turkey, waiting to be relocated. Image courtesy of Hamed H.

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