"When people would ask me what I was working on, I’d say, ‘I’m putting together a show about gender identity,’ ” first-time curator Nancy Gamon says, lowering her voice to speak the last words. “It felt like how we used to whisper ‘cancer.’ I felt really hesitant about saying what I was working on. I wasn’t sure how that was going to be received, and what people were going to think about that.
“And nobody thought anything about it at all, except to think that it was great.”
Her show Second Glances, at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center through June 9, uses art and apparel to explore themes of gender identity. A few of the more than 20 contributing creatives also address such related topics as feminism and ideals of beauty.
Gamon, a textile artist, says the show was inspired in part by her recent work with transgender adolescents and a wish to make feminine clothing that fits the masculine form. But ever since she was a teen, she says, she’s delighted in seeing people “doing their own thing with their clothes.”
One of the exhibit’s largest pieces is also one that conveys an incredible feeling of lightness. Spreading its wings triumphantly in a final gallery, “The Shoulders of Giants” is a magnificent butterfly that has shed the weight of others’ expectations. Emily Buddendeck, owner of Northside’s NVISION vintage shop, stitched together 1980s-era shoulder pads to make the oversized wings that frame a mannequin wearing a businesswoman’s power suit. “Giants” reminds visitors that not so long ago, a woman had to dress like a linebacker to have any hope of being invited to play a man’s game.
But what about the man who looks like a linebacker and chooses to dress like a woman — or in styles that people think only a woman should wear?
Da’Mon Butler makes bold, sculptural necklaces out of unorthodox materials, including bicycle inner tubes, plus he designs such unisex clothing as poncho tops and flared pants. Tina Gutierrez photographs his creations on black male models. Even so, Gamon says, Butler often gets asked, “When are you going to start making things for men?”
Karen Saunders attempts to strip away the labels “women’s wear” and “menswear” with accessories she calls “Worn by Humans.” Visitors are invited to pick up and try on hats, ties, purses, briefcases, heels and wingtips that have been painted white — the shade of a blank canvas. Susan Byrnes also wants to “recast” traditions. Her “Ball and Chain Handbag” is a cast-iron clutch that holds Dior Addict lipstick.
Artist Pam Kravetz acknowledges being a slave to makeup, “girly girl” colors and tutus. But she’s broken free of society’s other beliefs about what makes a woman. She can’t cook, she doesn’t clean and her body won’t be mistaken for a Playboy bunny’s. Kravetz owns who she is in her installation “The Bunny Madonna of the Bunnies,” which features a twirling pink rabbit fulfilling Kravetz’s childhood dream of being a ballerina.
Matthew Zory shows us ordinary people of meager means who also are rocking their own looks. In his series The Other Side of Music Hall, a man named Dave strikes a sassy pose in sneakers, blue jeans, a satiny shirt with puffy sleeves and a shiny red vest. A gold cross hangs around his neck. He rests one hand on his hip and the other on a cane as he stares down the camera from behind oversized sunglasses.
But there are some who are not happy in their own clothes or skin. Sea Dax, a non-binary trans artist who also identifies as fat, uses writing and needlework to convey their difficult journey. Each stitch that outlines Dax’s self-portraits suggests the uncomfortable messages that might poke at a body from the outside and within.
The wish in this show is that someday soon everyone can shed cocoons and test their wings.
Second Glances is on display through June 9 at Kennedy Heights Arts Center (6546 Montgomery Road, Kennedy Heights). More info: kennedyarts.org