The Unflinching Gaze: art and the male figure
While Australia’s divisive Marriage Equality debate raged on, reaching fever pitch in the major cities, a small regional town in New South Wales was launching a project that would welcome the LGBTIQ+ community with open arms.
Held at Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, ‘The Unflinching Gaze’ was a daring and evocative exhibition that showcased 200 photos and videos examining the male figure and how it has been portrayed in photo media over the last 130 years.
The provocative images on display included photos of convicted Nazis, a poignant series showing the death of someone’s lover due to AIDS, Andy Warhol in drag and more.
Art and fashion photography rubbed shoulders with popular as well as homoerotic images, and historic and contemporary film – all drawn from both famed and lesser known artists.
Works came from public and private collections across Australia, as well as Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York (partners on the exhibition), and a major private collector in Florida.
The Gallery’s Director and exhibition curator Richard Perram OAM, wanted to provide “a unique opportunity for audiences in the Bathurst Region to access a world class photo-media exhibition,” as well as “engage the community in a discussion around social issues.”
Prior to the exhibition’s launch in October 2017, Richard sought the expertise of UTS Distinguished Professor Peter McNeil and Dr Christine Dean, who contributed to the intellectual framing of the exhibition.
“I was invited, along with Dr Christine Dean, to be a writer for the exhibition catalogue. We were selected for our ability to engage with the history of photomedia across a long period of time and place (mainly UK, USA and Australia, 1860 to now) and queer histories,” Peter said.
“From the outset my aim was to interpret the exhibition’s concept, as well as selection of artists included in the show, from a highly specialised perspective, namely transgender art history and cultural theory,” Christine said.
“Richard was aware of my research and teaching experience within this field as well as my personal connection to the transgender community at large. Through these connections the transgender community became involved in the exhibition and associated events,” she said.
Peter and Christine were also involved in community outreach and advocacy, including speaking with the media, and taking part in a related Bathurst community forum which eventually made its way to UTS.
“I brought the forum to UTS the following week with support from several UTS sources including the Equity and Diversity Unit, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building and History at UTS, so that people in the Sydney basin could experience it,” Peter said.
Funds were also raised to bring Polish expert in Queer, Human Rights, Art History and Photography, Dr Pawel Leszkowicz, to both events, as well as for the production of the exhibition’s catalogue.
While the ‘Unflinching Gaze’ was not an exclusively gay exhibition, it made sure to not only include gay and queer perspectives, but also celebrate them. It also allowed the LGBTIQ+ community in Bathurst and beyond to be involved in a broader social discussion.
“The opening coincided with the Marriage Equality vote and the timeliness of 'The Unflinching Gaze' signposted the issue that LGBTIQ+ gender equality wasn't restricted to a handful of suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne but to Australia more generally,” Christine said.
The exhibition received widespread praise from the media, and had far reaching impacts beyond what anyone involved could have imagined.
As one journalist wrote in The Western Advocate on 14 October 2017, “While our politicians struggle with concepts of equality and acceptance, the Bathurst community can be proud that it is living these ideals rather than pontificating about them. Because as much as we may all be different from one another, the reality is we are all really much more alike.”
Peter and Christine were presented with the Ally Award at the 2018 UTS Human Rights Awards for their contribution to the exhibition.
The Ally Award recognises work done to improve human rights for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex and queer communities.