Throughout history, groups of Americans have fought tooth and nail for the equality of all people – through the Civil Rights, women’s rights and most recently, gay rights movements. The pursuance of social and political change comes in various shapes and sizes; however, activism through the arts appears to be one of the most accessible and successful modes of change.
Fifth year painting major Jordan Artim takes the issues of gay rights – specifically, gay slurs – head on in his upcoming exhibition, FAGLAND. For anyone unfamiliar with Artim and his work, the title of the exhibition may seem crude or even offensive. However, that’s far from Artim’s intention.
Of revealing the title to his stepmother, Artim said, “It’s funny, when I was explaining it, she asked me if it was something offensive. And, I don’t know. I don’t personally find it offensive. I think it’s shocking, but it mimics what my paintings have been portraying and the theme I’m trying to convey.”
Each painting makes a different statement about the American gay identity, and Artim infuses humor and irony into each piece, making them even sharper in their delivery.
Artim will choose a series of six or seven paintings that he’s been working on for the past four months for the exhibition and most of them, he said, are “fairly large in size.”
Artim described the theme as revolving around the difference in identity.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot within my most recent body of work,” Artim said. “Like male identity, white identity and for me personally, gay identity. So I wanted to explore how those identities react with each other. And like the American idea of gay identity and how that relates to social norms and what’s happening within contemporary society.”
The theme of identity is not new to Artim.
“Since I’ve been at Tyler, I’ve jumped through all different kinds of topics, but this idea of identity I’ve been working on for [more than] a year,” Artim said. “And I think it stemmed from the fact that my junior year of college I actually came out myself and became much more aware of identity and the differences and problems that arise when you take on new identities. So that’s kind of what prompted making this particular body of work. And for me, it’s a lot more than just picking a topic, like picking a paper topic. It’s something I’m interested in within politics, and it’s always in the back of my head.”
All of the pieces are either traditional oil paintings, or collages.
“I really just want people to enjoy the paintings any which way they prefer,” Artim said. “A lot of them are just really funny paintings that also carry some sort of truth – for me, at least. I mostly just want people to enjoy the paintings and laugh at them like I do.”
Recently, there has been a movement within the LGBT community to reclaim derogatory slurs from those who use them as weapons of hurt.
“I fully understand that people often try to ‘reclaim slurs’ in an effort to take the power out of them so they can’t be used as hateful words of oppression,” Julia Freedman, a senior theater and Spanish double major, said.
“But the problem is our country is not yet at a point of total tolerance and acceptance; therefore, these words are still used in a derogatory way,” Freedman added.
Artim clarified the distinction between reclaiming slurs and disempowering the words.
“I think it’s kind of interesting,” Artim said. “I think it’s kind of great. To reclaim these things, well, maybe not reclaiming them, but sucking all of the seriousness out of them. There’s something about it where I use those words, like the awful slurs, and it’s my way of taking the power away from it. Like, so it’s not a weapon.”
Scott Gratson, associate professor in the department of strategic communication and director of Temple’s communication studies and an activist in the LGBT community, also shared his view on debunking the gay slurs and empowering the LGBT community.
“There is a strong sentiment to not reclaiming the term [‘fag’] at all but instead raising awareness as to its negative meaning and impact,” Gratson said. “In the same way that the phrase ‘that’s so gay’ in synonym with stupidity or substandard, the term ‘fag’ has been noted as being categorically offensive. I recall a pop culture reference that suggests that the use of the word may be done not to reclaim the term but to save bigots the hassle of using the term ‘behind our back.’ Again, however, I don’t know if this is a reclaiming of the word or simply attempting to shift power to a population that has had to deal with the insult. Hence, its usage is not a reclaiming in this context but a strategic move to commandeer the term’s pronouncement – stealing, if one will, a trump card.”
Gratson, a fellow Tyler student, continued to express his appreciation for Artim’s upcoming show.
“I commend the artist for making sure that LGBT/Q issues remain pronounced and present on campus,” Gratson said. “Several others, including in the administration, faculty and staff of this university, could take a page from his book.”
In regards to the exhibit’s title, Gratson added, “it assumes a place of empowerment through much more than the use of the word. The linking of a place, a nation or ‘land’ with the term expresses more empowerment than the reclaiming of the word itself. By linking the two terms together, it creates a simple realization that has profound consequences: LGBT people are part of every land on this planet and have been since the dawn of time.”
FAGLAND runs April 15 – 21, with the opening reception on April 19, from 6-8 p.m.
Martha Anker can be reached at email@example.com.