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Empathy and Disturbance

Seattle is the first city I’ve lived in, where I assume people are queer rather than some heteronormative cookie cutout. Unlike Dallas*, where right-wing religiosity is still very much en vogue, Seattle has made room—dare I say “safe space”—for folks to identify as something other than the dichotomous “gay” or “straight.” I can dig it and at least in this respect, I fit in here.

The 2015 ’Mo-Wave Exhibition opened on Thursday, Nov. 12 at Vermillion on Capitol Hill and runs through Dec. 5 as part of the third annual ’Mo-Wave queer music and arts festival. Curated by Davora Lindner and Steven Miller, the exhibition features 12 artists whose work traverses disciplines for the purpose of stimulating a near-sexual mind-moistening of text-based teasing.

“A lot of the show speaks to a community voice that Steven and I see in our Facebook feed—or that we see friends and colleagues engaged in a dialogue about,” Lindner says.

For transparency’s sake: I want to tell the story of my experience. I am a black woman and I don’t read a lot of local reviews written by or about people who look like me. So, I’m focusing on the work of the two black women in this show. (If that upsets you…OK. I’ve spent a lifetime being upset, feel free to join me.)

Just as I clear the door to Vermillion last week, I run into Storme Webber, who I first met at a panel discussion several years ago at the Seattle Art Museum. I remember at first sight thinking to myself that Storme was an incredibly attractive silver-dreadlocked man. I may or may not have batted my eyelashes in a sickeningly cis hyper-feminine way. When corrected by a mutual friend later, I was more than a little ashamed that my brain wasn’t as ready as it is now to encounter more possibilities. Storme is the epitome of multiplicity.

“I’m two-spirit, I’m lesbian, I’m black … I’m so many things,” Storme explains as she steps away from the wall, after I capture her resolute beauty with a photo. Like many creatives, Storme has found a way to exist in parallel universes and reveals to me that she is releasing her latest newest book of poetry, Blues Divine, this week (available on Amazon.com).

Storme and I exchange soul-restoring hugs and she introduces me to Shan, her foster mother, who cheers energetically as Storme signs her large, two-dimensional, photographic collage entitled “All My Daddies Were Butches.” The moment is bedazzled with sweetness and pride, except what shines isn’t made of plastic or anything artificial. This is why I showed up a day early to catch the buzz of enthusiasm that percolates right before a show opens.

Storme reminisces about how she found a negative among her biological mother’s belongings and memories started to return like upstream-swimming salmon. The woman in the photo was her mother’s ex-partner, Storme’s Daddy. The woman’s heart-shaped mouth is darkened to a focal point and hovers between overlaid text from Storme’s poem of the same title, “All My Daddies Were Butches,”

No real Daddy but lots of butch stepfathers. Oh you 

dear DA'ed cool papas, Zippos flashing to light that 

femme's Kool, jacket draped just so.

Storme recites the text from her piece to me and the room disappears, leaving only the thread of her voice on a mission to decolonize every gentrified cupcake corner of Seattle, and perhaps maybe even the entire world, just one phoneme at a time. NPR needs to go ahead and get ready for all of that vocal swag.

“Daddies” asks the viewer to recalibrate their consciousness to “queer nostalgia.” Family and identity, memory and a distinct sense of reclamation of pre-Stonewall Seattle soulfulness are all evoked. This piece, like the rest of the show, seems to be footnoting another time.

“Frank, compassionate and vulnerable,” is how Davora Lindner describes C. Davida Ingram’s work, “Where Can My Black Ass Go To Be Safe?”

As rampant police brutality threatens the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, this tongue-in-cheek piece is as appealing as it is unsettling. The work is a series of color photographs punctuated with intervening text. Together they challenge the viewer to reconsider his/her presumably white gaze (hence the title). While the viewer is likely “perving out” over the spectacle, which black ass has represented since the Venus Hottentot days of yore, the viewer is also being offered some “kiss my black ass”-style attitude embedded like shade between the code-switching text and the heart-emoticon ass serving. It should be noted that this is not a difficult derriere to behold and as I walked away, a white man lingered behind, staring intently into the glass as if it were one of those 3-D Magic Eye paintings.

’Mo-Wave is text-heavy exhibition, and if the viewer can get beyond the ironically hyper-sexualized black body that Ingram’s work pivots around, framed not-so-subtly in neon green hot pants, the text is where it’s colloquially at. The line, “When I am the maggot in your white supremacy sandwich,” jumps out at me and I have to consider once again the legacy of the black body as “consumable”—something to be used up like food or fuel and the danger that comes with that positionality.

The line-up of artists involved in the exhibition is impressive, and you should really come take a look for yourself. Every work is a conversation starter.

Besides Storme and Davida’s pieces, there is photography by Leigh Riibe and Rio Abundez, installations by Mario Lemafa, Topher McCulloh, Grant Rehnberg, and Tara Thomas, along with painting by Liana Kegley, drawing by Andrew Lamb Schultuz, folk art by Joey Veltkamp, and a gripping work of performance-slash-sculpture by Rafa Esparza, who brings a much-needed blast of LA boldness to our wet, grayscale landscape.

James Grow, who has been helping create the title cards outside, comes out of the rain to read quotes from Topher’s piece out loud to me. I ask him who he thinks is speaking through these quotes. He laughs and tells me, “RuPaul” and the idea of carefully arranged and color-coded drag queen quotes appeals to me very much.

“A lot of the people who are going to come in are already going to relate to this,” he says. “Words are important these days.”

 


*I moved to Seattle from Dallas, Texas, in 2008. I would not say that I am “from Texas” though.

 

Photos by Natasha Marin. Top: Storme Webber at Vermillion. Bottom: C. Davida Ingram's "Where Can My Black Ass Go To Be Safe?" hanging at the 'Mo-Wave show. 

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