Last year, co-creators of OutOxford Jonathan Kent Adams and Blake Summers, in collaboration with the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and the Powerhouse, came up with the idea of an art show that celebrated the local LGBTQ community. This past month, that idea came to fruition in the form of the Big Gay Art Show.
The first Big Gay Art Show is up and running for the month of September, boasting more than 50 pieces, and the reception was held at the Powerhouse from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday as part of the Oxford Art Crawl. The exhibit will be up until the end of the month.
This will be the first fine art exhibit that OutOxford, which Summers and Adams started to bring more opportunities for LGBTQ exposure in Oxford, has sponsored.
A long-time artist, Adams reached out to some younger, lesser-known LGBTQ artists, including Deja Samuel and Jake Thrasher, among others, from the Oxford-University community to show their work in the exhibit. The result is a combination of 10 artists’ varied work. The exhibit features everything from ceramics to photography, and each piece ties together the show by sharing the overarching theme of the exhibit — the queer person’s experience in the South.
“I wanted to tell a story that was serious, playful and honest. I think that is what viewers saw at the Big Gay Art Show,” Adams said. “I believe in the power of art to make individuals think and look outside of their own perspective. I believe there are several moments in this show where that happens.”
Around 300 people visited the reception Tuesday night, taking part in the welcoming, introspective atmosphere.
“The art show was easily a success,” Summers said. “We had more than our expected demographic come out and support the art crawl in its entirety. It was great exposure for us. We had it all — art, spoken poetry, food, a drag queen, installations and a gin-themed beverage.”
The exhibit challenges viewers from all walks of life, exposing them to a version of Oxford’s collective queer identity.
“Talking about art opens the air. You get to find ways to relate about life experiences and sometimes a person you disagree with,” Summers said. “Pain is pain. Triumphs are joyful. Emotional communication is what makes art breathe, and we hope our curation was a bread crumb trail to understanding.”
Senior chemistry major Jake Thrasher, who is featuring two of his pieces in the exhibit, emphasized the important of a queer art show in the small community of Oxford.
“I think art exhibits that show diversity, especially in small towns, have a large impact on the perception of the town to insiders and outsiders,” he said.
Adams has a “sassy” self portrait piece in the exhibit that summarizes his thoughts toward our modern political environment and how that has already shaped the LGBTQ identity of the South.
“It’s a self portrait with a flag in it, and the flag is a part of me as well as the painting. I feel like with the new kind of political environment with Trump being in the White House, there is a movement of people who are anti-LGBT,” he said. “Yes, I might not like what’s going on, but this place is just as much mine as it is yours. You can take rights away, but you can’t take my identity away from me. That painting is me claiming that.”
The exhibit also documents important moments in LGBTQ history in Oxford, like the first gay pride parade two years ago.
“Blake’s boots that he put rhinestones on for pride, that’s a part of the exhibit. I love how if you go to a museum, art can show history, and we tried to do that, too,” he said. “That piece is about that moment in Oxford.”
The duo hopes that people from all walks of life will leave the exhibit with changed perspectives.
“I left the event full of joy. Seeing the indiscriminate community come together over these last two events has really improved my personal morale,” Summers said. “The South is becoming alright. Southerns have a beautiful tradition of love and a foundation of hospitality. I see it every day. I think Mississippi can grow to be a place for everyone. We just have to keep using our paints and glue guns and respect each other until that day comes.”
In the political climate of the nation and the community, it is more important than ever to Adams to bring the local community together using his passion for art.
“I think it’s cool that queer people can have a space to show people what they have and the community in return shows support. The coolest part for me, as an artist, was getting to showcase other artists’ work that I believe have the potential to grow and have powerful messages in the current political climate,” Adams said. “If you’re not a part of the LGBT community, I hope that you are challenged in some way or relate to it in some way because that’s what art does — it connects us.”