Student Art Show Grapples With Violence Against LGBTQ+ Community


“It Might Get Better”

On June 12, 29-year-old security guard Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49. It was the deadliest terror attack inside the United States since 9/11 and the largest incident of violence against LGBTQ+ people in the history of this country.

Around that time, UT MFA candidate Ryan Hawk pitched an art exhibition called Queer Territories to Center Space, the student-centric wing of UT’s Visual Arts Center. On November 18, it opens with two live performances, by artists Creighton Baxter and Jessica Borusky, both members of the art collective Highest Closet.

“I want people thinking about queer space and queer claiming of space and what that would look like,” Hawk says, in a tucked-away room inside UT’s Visual Arts Center.

In fact, much of the show is composed of either live or durational performances, meaning time-based events, many of them described by Hawk as “activations,” with detritus remaining once they are finished as its own exhibit.

“If you missed the performance, you won’t ever get that again, but you can engage with what’s left,” Hawk says, “which has an energy of its own.”

Another such performance, set to activate in the Center Space Gallery on November 19 at 3 p.m, is “It Might Get Better,” a commentary on the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth. Lasting 90 minutes, Baxter and Hayley Morgenstern sing and scream along to pop songs. Afterwards, the ephemera left behind becomes a sculptural installation inside the gallery.

“Untitled (Pink Puppy)”

Hawk, who received his BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston after growing up in Houston, also cut his teeth on performance art. He has shown work at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, Art League Houston, Grace Exhibition Space, and elsewhere, and won the 2015 UMLAUF Prize and the 2016 Traveling Fellowship from the MFA, Boston. Hawks contributes a video piece to Queer Territories, titled “Untitled (Pink Puppy).” He says it’s one of the only works in the show that directly deals with sexuality.

Fourth-year design major and Center Space president Nora Greene has embraced the challenges associated with putting on a show requiring the attention to time and space that Queer Territories requires.

It’s been logistically ambitious to foster this collective and bring these artists together for these performances,” Greene says. “It’s been difficult but exciting to push the boundaries of what we can do in that space. We haven’t had a collective perform like that in there before.”

From Hawk’s perspective, it was important to resist pushing a narrative that there is one singular experience for the LGBTQ+ community, or that the artists representing queer folks would have merely one underlying theme to convey together. In one sense, it’s a celebration of their kinship but also a recognition of each artist’s individual point of view.

“The complexity of a show like this is about the sharing of ideas and perspectives. It’s not an identity politics show; it’s a resistance against that,” Hawk says. “It’s hard to put in a box, to say, ‘Here’s this one theme in this show.’ There are several themes in this show and there are several ways everything is connected.”

Queer Territories opens at Center Space on Nov. 18 and runs through Dec. 10. It is free and open to the public.

This article has been updated. “LGBT” has been changed to “LGBTQ+” in all instances.


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