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Seeing art hang in a museum or even displayed as a public piece in the community is the way most Americans consume art. Over the last few years, the New York-based nonprofit SaveArtSpace has been working to expand that by purchasing advertising space like billboards to create huge public exhibitions across the country. This year, Detroit will host its own public gallery with five billboards that will be presented on April 6. The theme this year is “We Exist – The Future is Fluid,” focusing on the work of LGBTQ artists. The works will also become viewable up close in a yet-to-be-determined Detroit gallery from April 17 through May 2, with an opening reception on April 17.
For those interested in submitting works, SaveArtSpace is still accepting pieces through Feb. 24. The curators of this exhibit are artists Cyrah Dardas, Noura Ballout and Bakpak Durden.
“Around summertime last year I reached out to Cyrah, our curator, and I wanted to get her involved in some way. And she wanted to do this kind of show. We had a show in New York called ‘The Future is Female’ and we had female artists and then here in Detroit we wanted to go broader,” said Co-Founder and Executive Director Travis Rix. “So Cyrah, Bakpak and Noura all came up with the name and the greater idea of it.”
Rix said that SaveArtSpace was eager to focus LGBTQ works specifically because it was a natural transition from previous shows the organization had put on.
“We always want to push the boundaries of what’s available in the public space, and in the past we’ve had specific shows that weren’t as broad,” Rix said. “… And it seems like more and more, as SaveArtSpace has evolved, we’ve had plenty of LGBT artists involved and female artists as well — they make up the majority of our artists — and we like to get everyone as involved as possible.”
The show also intentionally deals with the concept of postgenderism that Durden defined as
“a wide-spanning concept that intersects in every part of sociopolitical and cultural oppression and asks the ‘binary roles of sex and gender’ to be erased in every culture so that everyone lives a more equitable life.”
“That being said, it is an admittedly difficult way of thinking because you’re essentially asked to unlearn and rebuild everything you’ve ever known,” they said. “There is gender disparity everywhere, not to mention for those that dont identify as part of the binary or have been subject to sex and gender stereotyping. [It’s] taking people on what skills and talents they have to offer as opposed to what they look like or present as, an actual freedom of expression.”
To that end, Dardas said she will be looking for representations of “authentic, queer representation” like “queer joy and queer love” and “gender variance.”
“… I would really like to see artwork bring that conversation to the forefront. I want people who don’t identify as queer to be able to feel like it’s acceptable for them to explore their gender, and not feel like they need to uphold the gender binary,” Dardas said. “… I am interested in seeing these [binary] constraints be removed so that people are able to ask themselves, ‘Who am I? How do I want to show up in the world? What am I good at?'”
And for those connoisseurs interested in works that extend beyond two-dimensional art, Rix said that there will be a visual performance element in the show’s gallery portion.
When asked why this exhibit was a valuable one to them, both Durden and Dardas agreed that its promotion of LGBTQ visibility is important.
“Growing up I wasn’t exposed to queer icons or role models that looked like me; and if there were they were way off base and not generally depicted in a positive way. [And] I didn’t see how I could be myself within my own family, let alone ever have one of my own. This lack of positive representation deeply affected me and limited my reality,” Dardas said. “I hope that this project can create some positive visability by brandishing Detroit billboards with queer art that hopefully leads to conversation and joy.”
Artists of all ages and talents are invited to submit their art at saveartspace.org/we-exist by Feb. 24.