"ON MANIFEST EQUALITY" - FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST - 3/7/10
I wear a little gold band on the ring finger of my left hand. I use it to wave away suitors in bars, and as a reminder of a commitment I made. In Canada, Germany, Holland, or countless other places, my ring might remind me of a marriage license tucked away in a drawer. Instead, it reminds me of a promise I made to someone, of our apartment, our dog, her collar bones, and of the people who insist that my love for her will send me to hell.
About two weeks before the opening, infamous organizer Yosi Sergant asked me to contribute some work to Manifest Equality. It was a no-brainer. An art show organized to help bring equality to the LGBT community in America, put on by some of the most capable minds in the country. My participation had nothing to do with the fact that I am bisexual, in a committed relationship and living with a woman. It was because the fact that equality is still something that has to be fought for in this country is an embarrassing travesty that our children will have to explain to our grandchildren. They'll say it was a dark mistake made by a grip of conservative septuagenarians with too much influence on our national body politic. Along with racial equality and the late bloom of women's rights, future generations will have to explain how, in the past, gays were misunderstood, and publicly humiliated for loving each other, and eventually, how they stood together and conquered stupidity and hypocritical hatred, and fought their way out of marginalization. They will show them pictures of ecstatic, sweet couples on the steps of city halls across the country, and of artwork made by people who wanted to give the movement a face.
Not only did I agree to contribute an art piece to the show, but I immediately cleared my schedule, and sent out a call to everyone I knew, asking to photograph them and all their friends who fell on any part of the LGBT spectrum. I wanted to humanize the abstract idea of 'gays', and show the beautiful, strong, everyday people I knew, that this country is discriminating against. I planned to place these photos in stacks in front of my piece, for viewers to take home with them; The emails poured in, and within two days I had sixty appointments. I shot each person in black and white, on film, for ten minutes, mostly outside of their homes. I asked them not to wear anything other than their usual clothing, and not to pose. I wanted THEM, just as they were. In the end, I had a document of a tribe -- a group of people that, unfortunately, mostly fall into a certain cultural grouping in New York, but it was a match under bottle rocket. Now I am setting my sights on making it a national project, and getting a broad range of diversity.
I am not a "queer artist" -- that is to say, I don't have an identity built around my sexuality, as it pertains to my artwork, which is part of what I found so exciting about the Manifest Equality show. The show was organized by three brilliant straight people, and both the art on the walls, and the crowd on the gallery floor were a totally mixed bag; straight actors who play gay characters on television, straight movie stars who have gay family, and gay superstar activists mingled with kids like me and my sexually ambiguous friends, to look at work made by more straight artists than gay. It wasn't about being homosexual, it was about being human, and the rights that that qualification should afford everyone.
It hit me, on opening night, that I was in LA. Where else would I see Darryl Hannah gazing at my photo, and Erin Daniels (of The L Word) grabbing portraits from my piles?
© Copyright, iO Tillett Wright 2012