By M. Sharkey
September 12 – October 28, 2017
Queer Kids by M. Sharkey – our first exhibition of the 2017 school year – has received a very warm welcome from the Exeter community. This exhibition features 27 intimate portraits of young LGBTQ people created by New York portrait photographer M. Sharkey. These portraits address issues of visibility and representation – Sharkey has beautifully and honestly helped these young people share who they are and provides them a platform to be seen as they wish to be seen.
Comments from gallery visitors:
“Very Powerful and Inspiring. We do not see this much in the rest of the world. Thank you!”
“Thank you – for your photos and to PEA for having this exhibit – and for the emotional openness of all the kids in the photos”
Opening Reception For Queer Kids
We kicked off the exhibition with a lively opening reception that welcomed numerous students, Phillips Exeter Academy (PEA) employees, and members of the local seacoast community. Many visitors met with the artist, others joined friends to view and discuss the portraits. There was a very popular “Wear Your Message” workshop facilitated by one of our Lamont Gallery student proctors where visitors could create their own buttons with custom messages or images.
As part of this exhibition, the Lamont Gallery reached out to members of the PEA community and asked them to share their reflections on what it means to them to be LGBTQ. A number of students, faculty and staff members took us up on the offer and shared some heartfelt and often personal reflections, poems, and stories.
During the opening reception, English Instructor Mercy Carbonell, along with other students and faculty members, performed her reflection titled “Are You Sure You Are Ready?” about her experiences coming out at PEA in the mid-1990’s.
“ ‘Are you sure you are ready?” They ask me.
Or Someone asks me.
It is in that space where Someone swiftly becomes Them All.
All At Once.
A curious dislocation.
An idiosyncratic psychic spell.
What does it mean to be ready?
Are YOU ready?
I want to ask.
– Excerpt from “Are You Sure You Are Ready” by Mercy Carbonell
A former PEA student who came to visit the exhibition during Leadership Weekend shared her experiences with us in our guest book. She was especially moved by the community reflections of Mercy Carbonell and Cary Einhaus, the Associate Director of College Counseling.
“Even five years ago when I was a student, I could barely fathum this exhibit every existing on campus. Walking through it I was on the fragile cusp of tears time and time again, reading Einhaus’ word, Carbonell’s words – those people who were there when I was and whose words are still here now. Its absolutely amazing, this exhibit. Thank you so much for it.”
~ Katherine A. ‘12
We are thrilled by the number of classes that have visited the Lamont Gallery to view this exhibition! In the past few weeks we have welcomed over 20 classes with more scheduled for the upcoming weeks. Some come with specific assignments in hand but most simply come ready to view the exhibition and talk about the work.
Most class visits begin by engaging the students in some guided looking activities. We often start with an individual looking exercise where students spread out and look carefully at one portrait, focusing on every detail they notice in both the subject and the backgrounds. Then students move into a more focused and searching exercise where they begin to take notes and jot down their observations of this image. This then leads to a group Harkness discussion where ideas and questions about the portraits and the exhibition are shared. Students use their observations from their single portrait to develop an understanding of the Queer Kids exhibition as a whole.
After some individual observations, we then move into a collaborative, guided-looking activity where we begin looking at one portrait from a distance and talk about the details we notice together. We then take a step closer and see how this change of perspective alters or enhances what we see. The class in the photo above is doing this exercise with the portrait of Kenny seen to the right.
While looking at this image, the observation and discussion session often leads students to notice small details like the bike on the sidewalk nearly completely hidden behind Kenny or the person crossing the street even though the sign says not to cross. Some students noticed the graffiti on the brick wall that is balanced by the graffiti on the box truck peeking out behind Kenny’s left shoulder. Excitingly, the topic often turns to noticing the deliberate decisions that M. Sharkey has made in composing this portrait such as the red color of Kenny’s hair that is repeated in the bricks, the red fabric hanging from the balcony and the no-crossing light that draw’s the viewers eye through the portrait. Some students pointed out the horizontal stripes in Kenny’s shirt that are mimicked by both the crosswalk and the shadows of the power lines in the pavement. Also, a hot topic of discussion is the effect that the lighting has on Kenny – many students feel that it makes him appear to float in front of, and slightly disconnected from, the crisp details of the background. Questions we then consider: Is this lighting effect intentional by the artist? How does it affect how you read this image?
Many of the English classes that have come to the gallery have used both of these individual and collaborative intense-looking exercises and detail decoding to help students develop their descriptive vocabulary and use of details to help them craft richer narratives. After participating in the collaborative looking exercise, students in Brooks Moriarty’s English course used this process to help them observe and gather information on a portrait of their choosing. Using the rich details present in their selected piece, they were then asked to write about a scene that they imagine could have happened the moment before this photograph was taken or the moment immediately after. They have just returned to the gallery for a second visit to help complete these narratives and we are excited to see what stories they imagine.
There has been quite a lot of exploring and discussion in the gallery these past few weeks and not only from our PEA students. We have welcomed numerous groups to the Lamont Gallery recently including small groups from the Riverwood’s retirement community, a lively bunch of homeschooled children, a local church group from Durham NH, and a few GSA/Pride organizations from local public high schools in addition to a multitude of other local visitors who have stopped to look and ask questions.
Student Gallery Proctors
The start of the school year also brings with it a number of very excited and eager student proctors to the Lamont Gallery. So far, we have had two meetings and these students are brimming with ideas for the upcoming year! Over lots of pizza we have discussed how to make the Lamont Gallery a more inclusive place by thinking about ways that we can represent and better serve the diverse PEA population.
Ideas include creating workshops about technology in the arts, discussions about art and culture, collaborating more with OMSA (Office of Multicultural Student Affairs), ALES (Afro-Latino Exonian Society) and the GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance).
Their first project will be an Open Mic night called “Who Am I” taking place in the gallery on October 11 from 7-8pm in celebration of National Coming Out Day. More information can be found on the events page of our website.
We are excited to announce that this exhibition was just written about in the New York Times Style section – “Style That Demands to Be Seen.” Ruth La Ferla interviewed Sharkey and gets into an insightful discussion about the Queer Kids exhibition, LGBTQ issues and how these youth, just like everyone, transform themselves to reflect who they are.
Many other articles about Queer Kids have also been written including two pieces in the Exonian – the student newspaper. You can see all them on the Lamont Gallery in the News page of our website.
Additional Campus Resources
As part of this exhibition we have used the amazing resources of the Class of 1945 Library to create a resources area in the gallery for visitors interested in learning more about LGBTQ topics. There is a plethora of information at the Library – we have only selected a few titles for this area.
For the month of October, in celebration of LGBTQ history month, the Library will have the exhibition “Pioneering Voices: Portraits of Transgender People” on display in the library commons. This exhibition features photographs by Jack Pierson and Gigi Kaeser and interviews edited by Peggy Gillespie and Jack Pierson, introduces people who identify as transgender or gender queer, and their partners and children. More information about the exhibition can be found on their blog and information about hours of operation can be found on the Library’s website.
Stacey Durand – Gallery Manager – Lamont Gallery