Does art have the power to foster community at the Claremont Colleges? The newest exhibit at Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery hopes to do just that.
On Oct. 28, the gallery hosted an opening reception for their new exhibition, “Queer-ish: Photography and the LGBTQ+ Imaginary.” Students and community members came to see the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century vernacular photographs and contemporary works by LGBTQ+ artists. Works presented throughout the exhibition explore themes such as representation, evolving social norms and same-sex affection.
Ken Gonzales-Day, Scripps Fletcher Jones Chair in Art and curator of this exhibition, commenced the event with a speech, where he shared the inspiration behind “Queer-ish.” Gonzales-Day wanted the title to reflect the fluidity of gender and sexual identities and the performative nature of image production while not assuming the queerness of the individuals, hence the “-ish.”
The exhibition is organized into four sections depicting queerness differently: touch, portrait, queer imagery and acting out.
“What you will learn from it is that people’s understanding of touch, people’s understanding of each other was different 100 years ago than it is now,” Gonzales-Day said. “So that is an invitation to think about your cultural ancestors.”
Many of these pieces resonated with attendees’ personal backgrounds. Attendee Marina Shishkina SC ’25 particularly enjoyed “Ronni and Jo, Seattle, WA” by Molly Lanreth, stating that it was one of her favorites from the exhibition. The photograph shows two women dressed in traditional Orthodox Jewish attire sitting at a crowded kitchen table, with one staring into the camera while the other stares at her.
“I think it really spoke to me because one, I’m Jewish, and two, it’s just a really new way of portraying … queerness where supposedly there is no queerness,” Shishkina said.
Alison Wang SC ’27 shared similar thoughts on an untitled piece by Taizo Kato. It is a self-portrait of the photographer embracing his partner, Kamejiro Sawa.
“I’m from [Los Angeles] LA myself,” Wang said. “And so I just think it’s very interesting to see queer Asian people, especially in such a different time period, who emigrated to the United States.”
Wang explained the exhibition’s ability to evoke strong emotions through its unique subjects.
“I think, sometimes, the images make me a little sad and surprised, because oftentimes, you don’t see a lot of queer people get to live their older years to fruition,” Wang said. “And for someone like myself, it’s strange to see older queer people.”
“What you will learn from it is that people’s understanding of touch, people’s understanding of each other was different 100 years ago than it is now,” Ken Gonzales-Day, Scripps Fletcher Jones Chair in Art and curator said. “So that is an invitation to think about your cultural ancestors.”
Shishkina described her appreciation for Scripps’ decision to host an exhibition like this.
“I’m proud to go to this school and have professors like Ken and a president like Amy [Marcus-Newhall] to be able to bring people and artists from all over the United States to talk about these ideas and showcase them to the students,” Shishkina said.
Education was not the only reason for the decision to host this exhibition at Scripps. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the significance of an exhibition like this became clear to Gonzales-Day.
“We had a pandemic, in which everybody was staying home with their parents for a couple of years,” Gonzales-Day said. “And there was just a sense of loss of community.”
Shishkina agreed with this idea, describing the impacts she saw as a result of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has just changed people’s lives in all these different ways that separated a lot of people from the community, from other human beings, from touch and from ideas of disease,” Shishkina said. “It’s a really big setback in our perception of what a community is.”
However, Shishkina believes an exhibition like this has the power to heal that wound.
“I feel like shows and live events like this are what changes that [perception of community] and creates a different perspective [on] what that really looks like in the future,” Shishkina said.
Gonzales-Day welcomed all to visit.
“So walk through, look at the work,” Gonzales-Day said. “Make a friend.”
Guests can visit the exhibition from now until Dec. 15, 2023, Wednesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.