When the Mondo Politico art show opens at Eyedrum Thursday, May 21, it'll probably be easy to miss Aubrey Longley-Cook's "Blue Bird." It's a blue-on-blue, hand-embroidered image of a fingerprint stretched 5 1/2 inches across a delicate wooden embroidery hoop. The swirling lines have the appearance of a rooster, too, with a cascade of feathers flowing down the left side. So precious, so sweet. But the inside joke here, according to the artist's blog Spool Spectrum, is that this sweet little morsel is in fact a portrait of the artist's right middle finger. It's an irreverent "Fuck off" written in the saccharine language of prim domesticity.
Longley-Cook's obscene gesture is a fitting symbol for Mondo Politico, the out 'n' proud visual art component of the equally out 'n' proud MondoHomo cultural festival. Although the festival is more widely known for its dizzying array of performance acts — which this year includes relentless rockers GSX and queer hip-hop legend Deadlee — Mondo Politico organizers are finding new ways to weave photography, painting, sculpture and other visual forms into the festival's tapestry of raucous queer voices.
Donnie Reider, one of the show's two curators, explained the history of the MondoHomo art show during a one-on-one tour of his second floor Virginia-Highland workroom. The space is small, but not cramped. He's somehow managed to squeeze an amazing amount of photographer's tools, art books and office equipment into the sunlit space.
The art show's 2007 debut was an ad hoc venture installed and uninstalled within hours at My Sisters' Room, Reider says. At the request of festival founders Ria Pell and Kiki Carr, Reider worked with co-organizer Maria Watts to pull together the 2007 event with a seat-of-the-pants curatorial style that made sense for a festival calling itself Atlanta's "indie queer cultural explosion." Reider continued to work with the festival in the years following, but only on the condition that the art show become a real exhibit, in a dedicated art space with a monthlong run.
Two years later, the show's reached a kind of adolescence. It's not yet fully mature, but is growing up quickly. "The Festival itself has grown over the years," says Reider, "definitely becoming more organized, more sophisticated as we all learn a little bit more about what we're doing."
Along with co-curator and ceramicist Kathy King, Reider's crafting not only a more sophisticated show, but one whose reach extends beyond the Piedmont. "Atlanta has always been a beacon for queer people in the South," he says. "You've either got New York, Miami, or Atlanta and that's why you meet so many people in Atlanta that are transplants. Because they've all come from these small towns in Tennessee and Mississippi and the Carolinas ... so that's really nothing new for Atlanta to be this sort of Southern, queer destination. MondoHomo has become just an extension of that." This year's lineup of visual artists includes mainly Atlanta artists, but a few are from as far away as Olympia, Wash.
Reider's also added a theme for the first time this year. Mondo Politico, as the title suggests, is specifically about politics, and how queer artists see themselves as political beings.
"Politics can mean so many things to so many people," says Reider. "What is it for you to be gay and political?" He intentionally selected artists with broad interpretations of those words. The resulting works are likely to be as unpredictable and individual as a fingerprint.
When asked about how politics intersects with gay identity and if that's what makes "gay art," Reider seems obliging, but slightly annoyed, as though he's weary of answering the question. "You could be political about something that's not a gay issue," he says. "I guess it's just how you as a gay person handle that. The best artists have always focused on what their life is about. So that's what you end up doing. ... When you do things that are personal to you or have personal meaning, like gay issues or whatever, it might not be gay art, but it's personal art. That's being political. That's trying to make a difference through your art."
Whether Reider is aware of it or not, his universalist credo is the next logical step for queer identity movements, and not just in the arts. MondoHomo's DIY, take-it-or-leave-it attitude leaps forward from the more established Atlanta Gay Pride. Pride has always focused more on what makes gay and lesbian culture unique rather than how queers have absorbed and reinterpreted a broad range of cultural forms, both gay and nongay.
This is the brave new identity world, unpredictable and messy. The MondoHomo logo consists of the raised fists borrowed from outspoken freedom movements around the globe and its website looks as though it were thrown together after a night of drinking and slam dancing.
Sculptor and installation artist Ruth Stanford is slated to have one of the show's more overtly political works: She's building a tiny scene of a gay wedding in the mouth of a mounted and framed taxidermist's fish head. It'll be weird. It'll be puzzling. And it'll be all MondoHomo, flipping the bird in its own little way.
Take that Prop 8.
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