When Kelly Pontoni, collection’s registrar for the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve
(AARW), first began envisioning an art exhibit around Northeast Ohio’s LGBTQ+ community, she was thinking big—but not as big as the upcoming CONVERGE
exhibit has become when it opens today, Thursday, Aug. 26.
“From the beginning, I had this vision of canvassing Ohio and Cleveland with LGBTQ+ art,” she says. “It’s turned into this huge program that I couldn’t be happier about.”
In fact, CONVERGE, a visual art exhibition held in partnership with the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland
, Lake Erie College
, Judson Manor Retirement Community
, and MetroHealth
, will feature more than 200 works of art by 71 regional artists and shown across five venues.
The exhibit brings together the stories of the LGBTQ+ community, including the struggles with AIDS, the historically underrepresented voices of women, transgender people, and people of color.
Arykah Carter, Black Trans Project: Michelle, Digital print, 8 x 6”
United by themes of pride, protest, transformation, and celebration, the art in each venue honors the past while looking to the future of the community and exploring the themes of identity—particularly trans and non-gender conforming identities in all of their variations.
For instance, Violet Maimbourg’s mixed media installation, “Wholeheartedness,” which features silicon sculptures lounging about a suburban interior, reflects Maimbourg’s own experiences as a transgender woman.
“Being in a body that is not congruent with your mind is a distressing, life altering experience…[These] creatures are more self-portraits than figments of my imagination,” she writes in a description. “By removing body parts from the context of my own body, transforming them into art, they seem less intimidating.”
Pontoni, a 2019 graduate of Cleveland Institute of Art
(CIA), who is in her early 50s and identifies as lesbian, says she saw the need for more awareness about the LGBTQ+ culture while in school.
“I was shocked at how many of my peers didn’t think AIDS was a big issue anymore, and it’s a very big issue,” she says.
Pontoni co-curated the exhibit with artists Sam Butler, Tony Williams, and Mark Yasenchack, with assistance by Mary Proctor, to become a staggering array of media including painting, photography, textiles, glass, fashion, assemblage, and immersive installations that transport the viewers while transforming their perspectives.
“We were very conscious of representing older and younger artists, artists of different races and backgrounds, and we even have two CIA students participating,” Pontoni says. “I really could say something about each of the artists participating, and I think that says a lot about the community.”
Pontoni says she thinks CONVERGE is especially important for the younger transgender artists, who don’t always have an outlet for their emotions and struggles. “I know so many young transgender artists who make art about their transitions—it shows their strengths and how they feel about themselves,” she says.
But Pontoni also recalls her struggles as a lesbian in her young adult years, and how an exhibit like CONVERGE would have helped her with her emotions when she came out in her mid-30s.
“If one person sits down and talks to someone who is gay or lesbian, or even transsexual, the younger people will share with you,” she says. “If I didn’t reach out and do something, I’m the same person who didn’t reach out to me when I was in my 20s.”
Thomas R. Roese, CleSeries: Spring Driveway, Graphite acrylic colored pencil, 36 x 28”
Work reflecting the impact of the AIDS epidemic will be reverently displayed throughout the partner venues. For instance, the LGBT Center will host the assemblage sculptures of Akron artist Bret Hines, created in remembrance of his brother, Rodney Hines, who died of AIDS in the 90s. “
Rodney lived in San Francisco but his family couldn’t bring his body home, because there were airline restrictions on flying the body of someone who died of AIDS.
Pontoni says it was heartbreaking for the family. “They had to cremate him,” she says. “It’s been 20-plus years since his brother passed away, and [Brent Hines] still just holds so much of that with him and his art.”
As part of CONVERGE, MetroHealth will be displaying part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt
. The health system has displayed panels every other year around Word AIDS Day in December since 2016, but Pontoni says MetroHealth agreed to display it in conjunction with CONVERGE and host a make-your-own mini square events beginning Saturday, Sept. 25. The quilt will be on display from Sept. 20 through Oct. 5.
CONVERGE opens tonight, Thursday, Aug. 26 with a reception from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Artists Archives, 1834 E. 123rd St. Registration is not necessary. The exhibit runs through Saturday, Oct. 16.
Click here for a list of exhibit venues, programming, and events.
“I hope this show is a celebration,” Pontoni says. “Even though there are hard things in the show, being able to express it is important.”