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‘Focus on the Family’ illuminates effects of hate crimes

By |2018-01-16T16:00:37-05:00October 4th, 2007|News|

By Sarah Mieras

E X H I B I T ‘Focus on the Family’

“Focus on the Family” will be installed at the Open Concept Gallery, 50 Louis, through the end of November. The Gallery is open from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Reservations for viewing are requested. To R.S.V.P. visit http://www.openconceptgallery.org or call (616) 233-9722.

In addition, two community discussions have been planned around the exhibit. The first “The Power of Art” will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10. The second “A Look In the Mirror: Reflections on Intolerance” will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 25. Both panel discussions will take place at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

GRAND RAPIDS – Cloaks, secret rooms and mirrors entwine to illuminate the invisible effects of homophobia in the video installation “Focus on the Family.” The interactive video exhibit by Grand Valley State University Professor Kim Roberts opened last week in a gallery tucked away on the sixth floor of a downtown Grand Rapids office building.

A collection of videotaped stories related to hate crimes, homophobia and family, “Focus on the Family” is more than just a documentary.

It is an experience that forces you to circumvent the secrecy of hate in our society. Forces you to feel, through physical pain, the effect hatred of some has on all us. It is the art exhibit to take your family and straight friends to, because it will spark conversation.

The experience of the exhibit begins before you step foot in the gallery. Upon arriving at 50 Louis, the address listed for the Open Concept Gallery, you follow a handful of nondescript signs through the main floor of an office building. The signs end at imposing steel wall with a handle. It is actually an elevator that requires the raising of two steel doors before the ride to the sixth floor begins. When you step off the elevator, you have entered a secret room in a building constructed at the turn of the 19th Century by Free Masons.

In a hallway you are asked to slip into a cloak and are led into a sunken room surrounded by a balcony. The architecturally stunning room is filled with five large golden edged mirrors. To view “Focus the Family” you put on a pair of headphones and stand before a mirror with your arms extended. The videotaped stories of victims of hate crimes are projected onto your chest. As you look into the mirror the reflection bears your head suspended above the videotaped interview. Each interview lasts nearly 15 minutes. To see their stories you must see yourself – standing still, your arms stretched out, looking into the mirror.

“It forces you into an uncomfortable and metaphoric position… you enter the struggle and pain of the interviewees,” said Zora Carrier, curator of the Open Concept Gallery, which unveiled it’s new home for the first time for the video installation. “I think it is so powerful because without you the exhibit doesn’t exist. You almost feel as if it is because of you all of this (hate crime) is happening,” said GVSU student Ryan Thompson at the exhibit’s second opening last week.

Roberts, a married straight woman, conceptualized “Focus on the Family” while attending a conference on “evil.”

“I thought, there is a lot of evil that happens today in our society, like hate crimes, that disrupt the harmony of our world,” said Roberts. “We actually created an addendum to our Constitution that is about discrimination.” With help from Triangle Foundation, Roberts collected stories from Michigan victims of hate crimes and members of their families.

“These stories are filled with love, not hatred.”

Roberts named the installation after the right wing, anti-gay organization, Focus on the Family, because she views it, and other similar organizations, as the root cause of anti-gay crimes.

“What really bothers me is a group like Focus on the Family who create an atmosphere that makes it difficult for families to cope when their kids come out,” explained Roberts.

The project became interactive, said Roberts, as a way to involve her audience, pulling them out of their comfort zones and away from their assumptions about LGBT people and their families.

“We just sit on the couch and watch stuff. I love to create a space where people can interact with the art. Through interaction, I hope people will come away with some concept of how deeply hate crimes affect people’s lives.”

For Grand Rapids, said Carrier, the fact that the artist and the gallery are not LGBT affiliated, is a “big sign of where the community is on this issue.”

Roberts hopes “Focus on the Family” will branch out after its West Michigan debut, with installations in other cities and possibly other states.

“I’d love to keep it alive, add more stories,” said Roberts.

Possible future uses for the project include diversity training programs, if the funding exists, said Roberts.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.