Entanglements, the latest installation in Gallery360, blends art, history, and ecology into an exhibit showcasing the work of Aaron McIntosh, a fourth-generation quiltmaker.
McIntosh uses queer ecology as a lens to explore the natural world and our relationship to it. Queer ecology, according to the National Wildlife Federation, “challenges the practice of only interpreting the natural world through the hetero-normative perspective that dominates Western human society, and invites us to embrace a more inclusive and diverse understanding of the world around us…[it] challenges the traditional binary and dualistic notions we often hold about nature, such as ‘natural or unnatural’, ‘alive or not alive’, and ‘human or animal.’”
In practice, that exploration looks like the Invasive Queer Kudzu Project. In this part of the exhibit, McIntosh looks closer at our relationship to kudzu, a plant native to the Southern US, and how it can function as a metaphor for queer people. “Certain native plants that do very well, grow very well – often on their own volition – are decided by us whether they’re wanted or not. Their value is decided by humans. And I think that has a really interesting, rather stark metaphor, connection to queer people setting in the south and otherwise what is to be cultivated and what is to be pulled,” he said.
In his original conception of the piece, he created quilted versions of these leaves and wrote his own stories about being queer on them. (Quilting has been intertwined with the queer community before; in the mid 1980s, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt captured the names of those who had died from AIDS. The quilt, which eventually grew to include 94,000 names, was a way for the queer community to memorialize and grieve for the people they’d lost.)
However, friends pointed out that kudzu leaves blanket a place; his stories might not be enough. “Friends were like, ‘you are not working at the scale of kudzu.’ You don’t normally encounter one little curly vine… you’re [encounter] a mass of it,” he explained. He looked to queer archives across the Southern US for more stories. He found a bounty of stories centering queer people, but he also saw how these stories locked queer people into rigid binaries. So he continued his work by reaching out to younger people at community centers and Pride events, giving them the chance to share their stories on quilted kudzu leaves.
He ultimately gathered stories from about 2,000 people. “I always consider myself a kind of steward of all of these stories,” he added.
This element of community engagement continues in the exhibit currently on show at Gallery360. “We are creating a quilt as part of the exhibition,” explained curator Juliana Barton. “There’s a station to make your own squares in the gallery and we will start putting those squares together as a quilt on [October] 20th as a workshop, [a] quilting bee, which is like a historical kind of community gathering,” said Barton. Gallery360 is doing this event in partnership with the LGBTQ+ Resource Center in honor of OUT-tober.
Northeastern students can come to the gallery on Thurs, Oct 19 for a panel on queer archives called “Queer Materials and Queer Hands: Archives and Accessibility,” featuring archivists and historians from the Boston Metro area, including the History Project, which documents the LGBTQ history of Boston, and Northeastern’s KJ Rawson, creator of the Transgender Archive. They can also join the quilting bee, which will run on October 20th. The exhibit runs until Saturday, October 21, 2023.