Two exhibitions to see this fall: “Queer Forms” and “Strong Women, Full of Love”
Image courtesy of the artist © Meadow Muska
“Strong Women, Full of Love” at Mia
By Lauren Sauer
For the first time ever, the revolutionary work of documentary photographer Carolyn “Meadow” Muska is being revealed to the public with “Strong Women, Full of Love,” a four-month exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The collection is a fearless display of love, respect, and joy within the LGBTQ+ community in both Minnesota and Oregon in the 1970s and ’80s.
Born in St. Paul in 1952, Meadow initially trained and worked professionally as a photojournalist. But after coming out at the age of 20, she lost her job due to anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination; she went on to become a master electrician. In the following years that the photos were shot, both Meadow and her subjects were at such high risk of violent repercussions that Meadow decided to develop the photos herself, digging out a basement to set up her darkroom. Her collection of photos covers a lot of ground in subject matter, from social activism to erotic portraits to her involvement with the “women’s land” movement, which represented a refuge for queer women to openly celebrate in a safe, serene place.
“Meadow said to me very early on that she started her work as a photographer within her community to counteract a lot of the negative and prejudicial messages that she had been given growing up about being gay,” says the exhibit’s curator, Casey Riley. “So her project was to photograph the reality of what she saw: strong, empowered, loving, committed, socially engaged and community-minded people.”
Riley describes her awe when she first met with Meadow and saw her photos—the first to see them since they were shot. “She takes beautiful photographs—they’re well-composed, they’re beautifully lit, they’re emotionally evocative, they’re very present, they’re intimate,” she says. “I’m just really excited for people to see them, because the second I saw some of them, I recognized how important they were, and how much we had to learn from them and from her.”
Especially in a time of such political and social turmoil, Riley says the photos illustrate the strides we’ve taken since they were shot, as well as the progress that’s yet to be made. “The fact is that many of Meadow’s friends were in danger. Either they had suffered sexual violence, or they’ve lost their job—all kinds of terrible things,” Riley says. “So recognizing the resilience of the women in these pictures, and their strength as a community, I think that’s something that I hope will resonate with audiences today. Because that resilience is, to me, the highest example of what we can do when we take care of each other, when we’re really in a community supporting each other.”
The throughline of Meadow’s work is sheer, uninhibited joy—joy in love, in community, in nature, in activism. Riley says, “I think that the most immediate thing is that we look at them, and they feel oftentimes like they’re timeless, like they could be [taken] today.”
“Strong Women, Full of Love” will be exhibited in the Perlman Gallery at Mia from August 17 through December 15, showcasing 30 of Meadow’s black and white images. Admission is free; learn more at new.artsmia.org/exhibition.
“Queer Forms” at the University of Minnesota
By Zach McCormick
In the tumultuous summer of 1969, six weeks before the Stonewall Riots would rock the nation, Koreen Phelps and Stephen Ihrig began teaching a class in a West Bank coffeehouse. “The Homosexual Revolution,” as it was said to be titled, became a locus for the individuals who would form Fight Repression of Erotic Expression, or FREE, one of the nation’s earliest queer student activist groups. Half a century later, the University of Minnesota’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery is celebrating these twin milestones with “Queer Forms,” an exhibition that’s nearly as diverse as our state’s queer community in 2019.
Nash Gallery Director Howard Oransky began the process of creating “Queer Forms” in 2013 in anticipation of Stonewall’s 50th anniversary and learned about the University’s history of activism and FREE from former colleague Lisa Vecoli.
“I didn’t set out to organize an exhibition ‘about Stonewall’—I wanted it to more broadly be about LGBTQ liberation across a variety of artistic media,” Oransky explains. “Having these two related anniversaries made the project all the more interesting for me. My goal as director of a university gallery is to make connections between art and all the varieties of human research, knowledge, and experience that live at the university. ‘Queer Forms’ is a perfect example of that.”
“Variety” is indeed a perfect word to describe “Queer Forms,” which will be comprised of a theatrical performance, a fashion show, drag and burlesque performances, and artist discussions, in addition to a full complement of the visual arts disciplines that the Nash Gallery is known for.
“It’s important to me that the exhibition includes a broad range of art forms, a broad range of intellectual perspectives, a broad range of university and community participation,” Oranksy says. “John Baldessari, my mentor at CalArts, famously wrote, ‘I will not make any more boring art.’ I am trying to not make any boring exhibitions.”
Twin Cities-based queer Hmong-French-American multidisciplinary artist Oskar Ly’s fashion show promises to be anything but boring. Ly’s Twin Cities-based fashion art label Os.Coture has championed the Hmong-American fashion movement through a combination of highly conceptual works and everyday wearables. Oranksy was introduced to Ly’s work by colleague Jessica Lopez Lyman, assistant professor of Chicano and Latino Studies, and knew he had a perfect fit for “Queer Forms.”
“I looked at the fashion designs on Oskar’s website and I was immediately blown away,” Oranksy says.
“Her fashion design is like a bridge, connecting the past and the future, the spaces between cultures, between concepts of grace and beauty.”
“Queer Forms” will also feature a dramatic reading of Puerto Rican playwright Haygen-Brice Walker’s “even.years.of.shed.skin…” which was commissioned by the Nash Gallery in collaboration with The Playwrights’ Center. Walker’s work is known for being heavily influenced by contemporary pop culture, and the brief for “even.years” promises an irreverent mix of internet dating, social media influencers, and MTV’s “Catfish.”
“Queer Forms” will run in the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota’s Regis Center for the Arts from September 10 through December 7. The exhibition’s public reception and Oskar Ly’s Fashion show will be held on September 21 at 7pm at the Regis Center. Haygen-Brice Walker’s “even.years.of.shed.skin…” performance will be held in the InFlux space at Regis on October 26. For a full list of details, visit z.umn.edu/nash.