Oh, honey... A queer reading of UMMA's collection

What makes a work of art queer? Who decides?

Hey, you.

So, you clicked through to see what the queer art show was all about. Well, relax. Not even all of the art is “queer art.” Don’t get me wrong; there’s definitely sex stuff. Though, if that’s your only expectation of queer visual culture, you may need to check out some of the educational resources below. 

Mostly what you’ll find here is art that spoke to me and challenged me, as I was exploring UMMA’s collection for queer themes. 

The truth is, I had some trouble figuring out what “queer art” is myself. What makes a work of art queer? Is it the sexual identity and/or gender expression of its maker? The subject matter? Who decides? To me, defining “queerness” and then assigning that definition to works of art felt like an exercise in the kind of categorizing I was trying to resist.

Also, UMMA’s collection doesn’t offer a fully representative view of queer lives, experiences, and art practices. It has limits — it tells certain stories while omitting others. All museum collections do. (Check out Unsettling Histories for another exploration of this idea). So, I decided to ask a different set of questions: How does my own situated point of view, as a queer man / graduate student / art historian at the University of Michigan, frame my reading of what is present and absent in this collection? And how can I translate my encounters to you — the online museum visitor who maybe just wanted to see sex stuff? 

The answers are three. First, I sought out works of art that would allow us to question categories of gender and sexuality and the power dynamics that operate within them. Second, in the physical space, I arranged the objects so that they could respond to one another and even challenge one another (we will try to recreate that in this online space as well when the show officially launches this winter). Third, I tailored the gallery texts to promote questions and thought rather than provide fixed interpretations, inviting you to arrive at your own meanings.

So, relax, honey. This is your show as much as it is mine. It’s not perfect. The collection isn’t perfect. But, it’s a start.

Sean

Read More

"The Gayest Generation" Podcast

Listen to a discussion about Oh, honey... with the curator and Jacob Gorsky, host of the podcast The Gayest Generation

Listen to the discussion

Artist Residency

Virtual Residency with Artist Chitra Ganesh

Chitra Ganesh is an artist living and working in Brooklyn. For the past 20 years, Ganesh's drawing based practice has shed light on narrative representations of femininity, sexuality, and power typically absent from canons of literature and art.

During Winter and Spring of 2021, Ganesh will join UMMA for a virtual artist residency.

Learn More About Ganesh

Image credit: Margarita Corporan.

Select objects in this exhibition

Check back for more objects, and exhibition-specific labels closer to show opening date.

Deep Dive: Sultana's Dream

Chitra Ganesh adapted "Sultana's Dream," a 1905 feminist utopian story by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain into a series of 27 linocut prints. Ganesh has said her work “connects with the problems shaping 21st-century life,” and by placing Sultana’s Dream in the present or near future, the artist explores contemporary issues of societal unrest, environmental catastrophe, geopolitical conflicts, and modern hurdles to realizing utopian dreams. In her words, Sultana’s Dream is “a moving blueprint for an urban utopia that centers concepts such as collective knowledge production and sharing, fair governance, radical farming, scientific inquiry, safe space for refugees, and a work life balance that includes down time and dreaming, with women--as thinkers, leaders, rebels, and visionaries--at the helm.”

See all 27 prints and read the story

Chitra Ganesh
Sultana's Dream: A Graphic Novel of Twenty-Seven Linocut Prints (13 of 27)
Linocut on paper
Museum purchase made possible by the University of Michigan Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the Director's Acquisition Committee, 2019
2019/2.93.13

Exhibition Support

Lead support for this exhibition is provided by Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard and the University of Michigan Office of the Provost.