Let Me Come Home
The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Advocate and Gochis Galleries, Los Angeles
through May 31
Written by Genie Davis
What does it mean to have a home? A place to be safe, to call your own, a roof over your head, a door to lock, a space in which to live and breathe? And conversely, what does it mean to be homeless? To experience that sense of loss and rejection, to have no place safe, no place that is your own, to be afraid, roofless, with no doors to protect you.
At The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Advocate and Gochis Galleries in Hollywood through May 31st, curator Alan Barrows has assembled a potentially galvanizing exhibition in Let Me Come Home, which asks just these questions, and poses poignant, heart-grabbing visual answers.
The art here has a strong socio-political undercurrent: it tackles ideas of home and homelessness in real, visceral terms; it moves beyond the conceptual, the intellectual, the words about where one lives, and presents its concepts in honest, strong visual images. And, the show is being staged during both the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s 50th anniversary year, and its opening celebration for the Anita May Rosenstein Campus, which is expanding the Center’s own resources for housing both LGBT youth and seniors.
Barrows, the co-owner of Civilian Warfare Gallery in New York, says in the exhibition notes “It is impossible not to be aware of homelessness and the impact of losing one’s home, whether it’s due to natural disaster, economic change, or discrimination. Especially in our LGBT community, at-risk seniors, youth, and trans people are disproportionately affected by the crisis of homelessness.”
With work from first-time exhibitors and well-known artists, the 17-artist exhibition includes work from David Wojnarowicz and Jane Bauman as well as Greer Lankton, Michael Becker, Zackary Drucker, Robby Gordon, Andrew Overtoom, Skip Snow, Eli Yomtov, and Rhonda Zwillinger.
The exhibition features a wide range of mediums from photography to mixed media to wall sculpture; but whatever the form, the work is designed to make an impact on the issue of homelessness, and bring awareness to the importance of the LGBT Center’s commitment to assist. Just across from the gallery, the center’s new Anita May Rosenstein Campus includes 100 emergency beds for individuals at risk from homelessness. The new campus also offers low-cost permanent housing for displaced seniors, a job center, health center, and substance abused recovery meeting rooms, as well as a farm to table kitchen.
While the campus is a fine start to assisting with homelessness in the LGBT community, it’s one step in a massive problem; and the gallery show serves to highlight the importance of making a commitment to continue expanding assistance. According to Jon Imparato, director of cultural arts and education at the LGBT Center, “I commissioned Alan Barrows a year ago to open this exhibition at the same time as our affordable housing campus. I asked him to find art from artists that was about what home meant to them, and it includes a wide range of people’s expectations of home, people of color, Native Americans, the diverse community; we got many people from the melting pot of who we are as queer people.”
Barrows notes that he wanted to make the show “as diverse as possible, and include many people. An important part was the empathy that the artists had to the homeless and homelessness. My idea was to create a dialog about what home means to people, what it means to us, to everyone. I was trying to find different ideas behind that in a way that we are not comfortable with or expecting. It is a difficult conversation to have today.” He adds that he was “blown away” by the effort that was put into creating the show and a dialog with the community at large through it. “Some people took their inspiration from what they experienced personally: some had experienced homelessness personally, and some experienced seeing other people marginalized and shamed. I was trying to put together a representation outside of what we see elsewhere.” He says he’s excited by putting together this body of work. “If everyone just stops for a moment and reaches out to someone at risk, they can make a difference. And I feel each of the artists really did that, really made a difference in their work.”
There are many standouts in the exhibition. A collaborative painting between Jane Bauman and the late David Wojnarowicz, created in 1982, is one. Wojnarowicz’ iconic burning house is one of the images, and the Manhattan skyline in the piece is Bauman’s. The layered painting is made up of stencils that both used when they were creating street art, and curator Barrows was their art dealer.
Viewers also experience moving photographic portraits of the late Alexis Arquette, created by Michael Becker. Imparato notes “As a trans person, our gallery space was a welcoming home for her. She could be safe here. She loved art and would come to many of the openings. Going back 21 years, safe places like this cultural arts center didn’t often exist.” Imparato loves these two images, and says “I knew her for many years, and so the works are personal for me.”
Barrows adds “Becker was photographing to create an image of someone who was trying to be themselves, no matter what. I think she lived her life in a valid way without help from her family or anyone else. It really captured who she was. She died in her own home on her own terms, making a decision that was very difficult,” he explains.
In the mixed media piece “Digging Deep,” Rhonda Zwillinger has created a rich analogy for doing the hard work that people often must accomplish in life. The lush and evocative piece is a standout, utilizing a shovel hung with crocheted beads. “Zwillinger is an artist who has a disability and chemical sensitivities, and this piece represents the difficult things that people have to do and overcome. The beaded section is made up of Swarovski crystals and Czech beads, and is a very ‘feminine’ material. The shovel, which was once used to shovel horseshit is very ‘masculine.’ I thought it was a brilliant combination.” Essentially, Barrows says, the work is about the beauty that is found once one “digs deep” to get through the traumas we experience.
Yet another strong mixed media piece comes from Zackary Drucker. “Her doormat is an amazing work, in that she allowed herself to say ‘you can walk on me, I will allow you to do this because I am bigger than that, I will always survive.’” The powerful piece features an image of Drucker’s face.
A provocative mixed media work from Greer Lankton, “Sissy” offers viewers a deceptively simple and yet touching image. The late trans artist’s work here is based on a name she was called as a little girl. “She had a sex change at a young age, which is pretty remarkable, 40 years ago,” Barrows stresses. “Her father was a pastor, and the church members raised money for the operation. But before that, she had an image of herself that she was a she when still physically a he, so she drew this little drawing of herself as a little girl, trying to own that.” According to Barrows, “She became her true self and a very successful artist, and even exhibited at LACMA,” Barrows attests. “You have to own yourself.” With that in mind, “Sissy” is really an image about finding a home in yourself.
As Barrows says, “People are still in the shadows all the time, because they are homeless, because of sexuality.”
The exhibition is beautiful in and of itself, but specifically because it makes a strong effort to lift the shadows and reveal people who have the need to find a home.