Celebrating 'STONEWALL @ 50': Curators Discuss Philly Exhibit

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 24, 2019

A collective of 60 Philadelphia-based LGBTQ artists will be participating in the exhibit "STONEWALL @ 50" at the Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University. The exhibit opens the evening of June 28, in commemoration of the same night in June 1969 when patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against police shakedowns, with resistance and rioting that inspired a new era of queer activism.

Curated by Janus Ourma and David Acosta, the show is comprised of over 100 works of art in every medium: painting, sculpture, film, photography, fiber, multi-media and performance art. Most were existing pieces that the artists had in storage, but others will be exhibited for the first time with some specifically created for the Pearlstein exhibit. All reflect the multi-cultural expression of GLBTQ+ culture, past and present.

Just prior to the show being assembled for in the beautiful rooms of the Pearlstein gallery, curators Janus Ourma and David Acosta spoke by conference call about the artistic and GLBTQ community scope of the exhibit.

Ourma is a Queer-American independent curator and artist who has presented performance artworks at the Philadelphia and Dublin Fringe Festivals and serves on the William Way LGBT Community Center Arts Committee. Acosta is a writer, poet, curator and has collaborated on numerous exhibitions showcasing the work of LGBTQ and Latinx artists.

They explained that earlier this year they approached galleries about doing an expansive Stonewall exhibit, but had no luck, mainly because most large galleries schedule shows two years in advance. So they decided to curate the show themselves. In March they sent emails to the network of Philadelphia-based LGBTQ artists they knew or were referred by other artists, and the list of grew to 60. Still, they needed a gallery. By chance Acosta asked dancer-choreographer Elba Hevia y Vaca, whose Pasión y Arte flamenco dance company has performed at the Pearlstein, for assistance. She wrote back and said the Drexel Gallery directors were immediately on board.

"Janus and I were very conscious of the fact that we needed to make sure that this exhibition would be really reflective of a very diverse Philadelphia community," Acosta explained. "Why not a show of this nature here? Alongside of New York, we too have a long history of LBGT rights, such as with the 'reminder days' demonstrations with Barbara Gittings in the 60s and a very strong ACT-UP chapter. This exhibition is an homage to those voices, but, as Janus reminds us, we have so many young artists whose reference is to those things are different, but they are definitely weighing in on many of the same concerns."

"Because it was invitational show and we're aware of the artists' work, we could be focused on submitted artwork that not only reflected the resistance seen at Stonewall, but also those that celebratred of queer life. The need to recognize and honor 50 years after Stonewall... which I regard it as a historical cultural milestone and something to be really proud about," Ourma added.

One of the main themes of the exhibit looks at the role active resistance has brought the enormous change in society's attitudes to the LGBTQ community; but with change comes pushback. "We, as a people move forward, then we get pushed back...." said Acosta. "But we are currently witnessing a backlash with this administration, who talks through both sides of their mouths. They give lip-service to HIV-AIDS initiatives but cut HIV funding. They are also pushing back any civil-rights protections for trans-Americans." Active resistance by gay America is one of the main motifs showcased in the exhibit "and there are many artists that are incredibly political and always have been, this is a continuity of that history of activism."

Leah Appleton, gallery coordinator, spoke about the exhibit the day before she was overseeing the installation and said that it was particularly moving to her as a nonbinary member of the queer community, who just graduated from Drexel with degrees in art and arts administration.

"On a personal level. I'm a queer person, non-binary woman, to have an opportunity to reflect and provide resources in my community, with a broad array of identities, voices, and perspectives. Important conversations on a cultural level. Janus and David had so many ideas, it made it possible," said Appleton. "We have a lot of space. So I thought for a show this size, it would be so appropriate." Appleton noted that the large gallery spaces would be perfect for the exhibit.

In addition to visual art, the opening night will include three performance artists. The opening reception features performances by Wit López, Vitche-Boul Ra, and Jonas Dos Santos. Dos Santos, who was one of the first out queer performance artists on the New York scene in the 60s.

"This a different way to celebrate Pride, that means a lot to me as an artist," says Appleton, noting how substantive the exhibit is and how quickly it was all orchestrated by the curators. "That's the beauty of the community. They knew all of the artists. Making these connections and that's indicative of what the show is about. Queer folk standing together to create meaningful visibility... and documentation. How our history has to carry on," Appleton said.

"STONEWALL @ 50" opens June 28 and runs through July 26, 2019 at the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery | 3401 Filbert St. Philadelphia PA. For more information, visit the event's webpage.
The Opening Reception takes place on June 28, 5:00pm - 8:00pm with performances by Wit López, Vitche-Boul Ra and a tableaux vivant by Jonas Dos Santos at the opening reception. For more information, email [email protected] or call 215.895.2548.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.

Comments on Facebook