(dis)playing the Other
An artistic exploration of the light and dark of queer identity
This exhibition at Belfast's Catalyst Arts gallery features work from national and international artists, all of whom are either lesbian, gay or transgender. For these artists the personal is most certainly political.
Duo Quinnford and Scout’s piece is a Facebook inspired wall (or Wall) decorated with an assortment of framed photos documenting two years of their relationship.
It sounds overly sentimental, yet is worth stopping to appreciate the mundane yet profound moments of domesticity. The photos include buttered bagels in the kitchen, jam on toast enjoyed from the comfort of a futon bed, and the more romantic image of their dark beards locked in a passionate kiss.
Something a little more angst-fuelled awaits on the opposite side of the gallery: a work by Ins A Kromminga, a Berlin-based Intersex artist, who only discovered they were intersex at the age of 20 whilst studying at art college.
The 16ft by 8ft blackboard offers up a sprawling array of small watercolour paintings, photos and sketches from a back catalogue of ten years. One of the first photographs to catch the eye is a shot of plasticine genitals, contaminated by debris and dust from the floor.
Ins A Kromminga hones in on imagery of disgust and alienation – in one painting a monstrous, hairy animal plods across a boggy marsh. It is reminiscent of the ostracised ‘creature’ in Mary Shelley’s classic gothic horror novel Frankenstein.
The large-scale blackboard also confronts the modern-day commodification of gender. One painting presents various watercoloured vaginas with the headline above advertising 'PRADER - genital fashion since 1957'.
The work’s idiosyncratic personal take on issues of intersexuality makes this one of the stand-out features of the exhibition. Although the clustering technique of a ten year archive of artwork may not be to everybody’s aesthetic taste.
There is also the more minimal photographic work of Belfast-based artist, Gavin Devine. His portraits are of older men, all gay and Northern Irish, who came out during the 1960s and 70s. The three subjects sit in what appear to be their own domestic settings.
The unsettled expressions on their ageing faces hints at the individual struggle that each of these men may have experienced in ‘coming out’. Specifically, as the well put together exhibition booklet implies, the portraits represent their exasperation with the 'seemingly compulsory rite of passage' that they have each had to face.
Moving back into the domain of gender and the imagery of disgust is work from Belfast artist, Jenny Keane. Keane’s practice focuses on the word 'horrific' and its relationship with femininity. Using graphite, she has hand-drawn a picture that takes up a whole wall, depicting the famous scene from Nightmare on Elm Street when Freddy Krueger’s claws reach up between Nancy’s legs in the bathtub.
Over the course of the exhibition, Keane will lick off Freddy Krueger’s metal claws one by one, which, on each of the occasions, results in her tongue bleeding onto the drawing. There are already the dried, curled up remnants of bloodied paper beneath the first licked-off claw.
In grappling with such a broad theme some may find this exhibition’s presentation of ‘queer identity’ a little too self-explanatory and linear at times. However, overall the exhibition offers up a rich mix of contemporary work that will further expand viewers’ understanding of queer identity and its relationship with current dominant societal discourse.
(dis)playing the Other runs in Catalyst Arts until August 9. For more information about the exhibition go to CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide.