A portrait of home through the queer gaze

A portrait of home through the queer gaze

New exhibition Dreaming of Home brings together works by 20 international LGBTQ+ artists offering a complexly layered exploration of what it means to be home.

Content note: this article includes descriptions and pictures of self harm / mutilation that some readers may find distressing.

A few years after coming out, curator and writer Gemma Rolls-Bentley was still struggling to find peace with her sexuality. “In my early queer years I felt a confusing tension between the newfound joy, liberation and hope and the pain, guilt and confusion as a result of outside influences and my own internalised homophobia,” she remembers.

She happened upon Catherine Opie’s 1993 groundbreaking photograph, Self-Portrait/Cutting, a wrenching yet tender depiction of our primal need for love, family, home, and belonging. In the photo, Opie stands topless, facing away from the camera, displaying a childlike drawing carved on her flesh, fresh blood exposing two stick figure women standing hand in hand in front of their home.

Catherine Opie - Self-Portrait/Cutting, 1993. © Catherine Opie Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

Gazing upon the photograph, Rolls-Bentley felt seen. “It was really meaningful for me to find that identification,” she says, “and to see how Cathy was celebrated as an artist by galleries, institutions and the art market.”

Coming full circle, Rolls-Bentley positions Self-Portrait/Cutting as the departure for the new exhibition, Dreaming of Home at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York. Bringing together works by 20 international LGBTQ artists including Clifford Prince King, Zackary Drucker, and Amos Mac, the exhibition offers a complexly layered exploration of home through the queer gaze.

Dreaming of Home marks the 30th anniversary of Opie’s career defining image, and reveals the ways in which artists have interpreted, reflected, and expanded narratives of LGBTQ life since then. The exhibition brings together works across photography, interactive digital art, abstract painting, and conceptual sculpture, that consider issues of migration, trans safety, domesticity, parenting, chosen family, and feeling at home in one’s body.

Charmaine Poh - How They Love series, 2018-2019. Courtesy of the artist

Recognising that our experiences of home are vast and multifaceted, Rolls-Bentley creates an inclusive space to engage with the emotional, psychological and physical realties of queer life in its most intimate spaces. Photographer Rene Matić offers a look at home as community, sharing intimate scenes of love, self-expression, and celebration in the UK today.

For her 2018-19 series, How They Love, photographer Charmaine Poh presents tender moments of connection between queer couples in Singapore, a nation where homosexuality was banned until November 2022. The staged scenes are overlaid with images from her parents’ wedding, reminding us that bigotry and hatred has no place in this world.

Rene Matić - Asa and Grey, London, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London
Rene Matić - Nadine and Maggie on Halloween. Courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London

Drawing inspiration from her experience a queer woman, parent, and advocate, Rolls-Bentley understands the importance of using her position to help facilitate change. “I’ve been engaged in activism since I was young and I am now in the very privileged position to be able to bring that activism into my professional space,” she says.

“Queer and trans people are often the ones leading our culture and our cultural revolutions. I strongly believe that art has the power to increase empathy and help people see other perspectives. I feel a sense of responsibility to use my platform to support underrepresented artists and shine a light on challenging issues.”

Rene Matić - Kai in White, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London

Dreaming of Home is on view through January 7 2024, at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York.

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