AAWR: LGBTQ History Is Our History
LGBTQ history is our history, and the story of the community is the story of our region. Behind the jubilant parades and rainbow flags which blossom on front porches in June is a proud population who work, live, and love in Northeast Ohio, and contribute mightily to its rich visual culture.
This August, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve will present CONVERGE: a massive exhibition documenting the work and sharing the stories of over sixty LGBTQ+ artists of all ages, identifications, and backgrounds, who are creating in nearly every conceivable media. Overseen by Kelly Pontoni, the diverse curatorial team includes Sam Butler (video/digital arts), Tony Williams (textiles/paper), and Mark Yasenchack (ceramics), with curatorial assistance provided by Mary Proctor.
In a sense, Chief Curator Kelly Pontoni’s entire life has informed this exhibition. Pontoni, a printmaker and painter who identifies as lesbian, is a recent graduate from Cleveland Institute of Art, where the show germinated from her senior thesis. As a nontraditional student in her late forties, Pontoni found herself surrounded by a generation of LGBTQ+ students who felt somehow unfamiliar to her. “I wondered where I as a lesbian fit into an increasingly non-binary world,” Pontoni explains. “Instead of holing up in my comfort zone, I got curious. I asked questions, but most importantly I was willing to listen… so over many, MANY shared conversations and cups of coffee, I gained perspective.” Like Pontoni’s café conversations, CONVERGE was conceived “to open people’s minds, to facilitate real dialog about why pronouns matter, how trans rights ARE human rights, and how each unique identity can hold space in our big, beautiful community.”
The exhibition was also created to steward the overlooked and neglected history of a criminally marginalized people. “During my conversations with students, I noticed huge gaps in their understanding of LGBTQ history, particularly concerning the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” Pontoni, whose own father died from AIDS in 1979 recalls, “There was a time when people in our own community were attending funerals every weekend. An entire generation of gay men were wiped out…. And no-one seemed to care because it was viewed as a disease of immorality.” CONVERGE will tell their stories too, and at a moment when we find ourselves surrounded by the stark realities of a new global pandemic—one which has already seen radically different outcomes from its predecessor. “How many more humans would be alive today,” Pontoni reflects, “if we had spent half the resources on solving the AIDS epidemic as we did on COVID-19?”
CONVERGE also marks the first time that the contributions of regional LGBTQ artists have been documented to any great extent. AAWR Executive Director Mindy Tousley describes, “It is our hope that holding this exhibition, producing a catalog, recording the artists’ oral histories, and supporting their stories in a series of virtual programs will begin the process of historical documentation, and add to valuable insight addressing the extent of the contributions of our LGBTQ artists. This effort is precisely in keeping with the mission of the Archives, which is to actively document and promote the visual culture of Northeast Ohio.”
Held in partnership with The LGBTQ Center of Greater Cleveland, Lake Erie College, and Cleveland MetroHealth, CONVERGE will span four exhibition spaces, each featuring a unique thematic exploration of the LGBTQ experience, including protest, pride, transformation, and celebration. Tousley explains, “We feel the partner venues, one educational, one medical, one community, and one devoted to the arts, spread across a geographic area both urban and suburban, will provide us with a diverse audience in terms of viewers.”
Of particular note, Cleveland MetroHealth Medical Center has planned its bi-annual exhibition of the National AIDS Quilt, which will feature squares honoring the lives of those who died from the disease in Northeast Ohio, to coincide with CONVERGE. Each venue will host a reception to celebrate the exhibition, as well as create dynamic programming to serve and engage their communities.
CONVERGE will open on Thursday, August 26 and be on view across the region until October 16. Please visit artistsarchives.org for additional details as they unfold.
KEN NEVADOMI | JUNE 17–AUGUST 7
VIRTUAL OPENING RECEPTION: 7-8PM THURSDAY, JUNE 17 ON ZOOM
ART BITES–COLLECTING ART TALK: ADVENTURES IN ART COLLECTING WITH CHRISTOPHER RICHARDS | 7-8PM WEDNESDAY, JULY 14 ON ZOOM
CONVERGE | AUGUST 26–OCTOBER 16
OPENING RECEPTION: THURSDAY, AUGUST 26 TIME/LOCATION TBA
ART BITES–ART IN CONTEXT: HOW QUEER ART CHANGED AMERICA | SEPTEMBER 2021 DATE TBA