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Queer, non-binary, happy… creating the life you want wherever you are

A Las Escondidas, Performance art by Jose Villalobos, one of the artists showcased at In Plain Sight: Queer Rural Narratives from the Water and the Land.
Photo courtesy of exhibit
A Las Escondidas, Performance art by Jose Villalobos, one of the artists showcased at In Plain Sight: Queer Rural Narratives from the Water and the Land. 

In Breckenridge, Colorado, a new art show highlighting rural queer voices opens on January 27th. Titled “In Plain Sight: Queer Rural Narratives From the Water and the Land,” the show features queer artists from around the country.

Avery Glassman, director of programs and special projects for Breck Create, is the curator for the show. Glassman said that the idea for the show came from queer artists who inspire her, and “seeing firsthand the ways in which rural places tend to get marginalized, both socially and economically in the United States, despite the fact that it’s in large part natural resources from those places that fuel the rest of the country’s economy.”

The show will contain many mediums, including fiber art from Janie Stamm and Ben Cuevas, sculpture from Stamm and Jose Villalobos, paintings from Lindsey Cherek Waller, and an installation and paintings from Robert Martin.

The show also focuses on how each artist relates to the physical environments around them, which, for some, looks like the extraction of natural resources or how climate change affects rural communities and landscapes. Each artist explores these themes differently, based on their own experiences.

A common theme for many of the artists was the way that being in rural places and engaging in the landscape inspires creativity – to some it’s an integral piece of being able to create their art.

Mara, 2021, Acrylic on vinyl, Painting by Lindsey Cherek Waller, a painter whose art will be showcased at In Plain Sight: Queer Rural Narratives from the Water and the Land.
Photo courtesy of exhibit
Mara, 2021, Acrylic on vinyl, Painting by Lindsey Cherek Waller, a painter whose art will be showcased at In Plain Sight: Queer Rural Narratives from the Water and the Land.

“Queer people have always existed in rural spaces, and yet those stories have really been ignored,” said Glassman in a Daily Yonder interview.

When artist Lindsey Cherek Waller moved to rural Minnesota from rural Wisconsin, they wanted to connect with the local queer community. “It’s important to find that anywhere as a queer person, but especially in a rural area, it’s pretty difficult to find,” said Cherek Waller. They started reaching out to other queer people in the area and painting them, creating both community and art simultaneously.

Cherek Waller uses their art and social media influence to show that being queer and living in a rural area are not incongruent. “You can be queer and non-binary and you can live in a small town and you can still be happy…and be an artist and create the kind of life that you want to regardless of where you are,” said Cherek Waller.

Cherek Waller’s work that will be displayed at the In Plain Sight show consists of several large-scale paintings on vinyl that will be hung in such a way that viewers will have to nearly walk into them. “they’re really gonna be kind of confrontational,” they said.

Janie Stamm recently moved from St Louis, Missouri, to Pacific, Missouri, a town of around 7,000, to find the mental and physical space for her art practice out of the city. Her work draws from her childhood in Florida and finds the parallels between climate change and queerness. Stamm said she sees that queer people have been treated similarly to the environment in that society’s response to their survival is “we’re not really gonna do much until it’s on fire.”

Stamm’s work for the show consists of found objects combined with photography and fiber arts. She sees the In Plain Sight show as a great opportunity for artists to get recognition outside of the art scenes of large cities for art that does not fit the standard mold.

“I feel like personally…overlooked or just kind of overshadowed because I don’t live on the East Coast or the West Coast. I made the choice to leave Chicago. I do a lot of craft-based art,” said Stamm. She also highlights the importance of having specifically queer art shows in these rural spaces.

Another featured artist, Jose Villalobos, grew up on the border of Mexico and Texas and felt like his identity was similarly stretched between two places. “Being neither from here nor there, especially when it’s the border. It’s like you’re never American enough or you’re never Mexican enough,” said Villalobos.

Growing up closeted, Villalobos said he hid himself and assimilated. “It’s something that we still do as queer people. We have to, there’s a sense of assimilation for protection from the dangers that exist, whether it’s verbal or physical harm…specifically [for] trans women and trans women of color,” said Villalobos.

Now Villalobos said his art digs into understanding and dismantling masculinity. The work that will be shown in the In Plain Sight art show features horse saddles constructed to represent low-rider cars.

“It’s almost paying homage to my father because of how he would work on cars,” said Villalobos, “…but also at the same time, it’s kind of going into the subculture of the Lowrider culture because I feel that at times it can be a very masculine kind of environment, although the cars are flamboyant and very glittery and glitzy and glammed up.”

Artist Robert Martin grew up in northern Wisconsin and recently moved back to the area. “There is such a rich history of queerness in rural America,” said Martin. They are excited to bring more awareness to this history through this show and their artwork in general.

Their work for In Plain Sight consists of an installation of a fictional queer dive bar, called Two Bucks. They repurposed an old Miller Light pool table light into a Two Bucks branded light and much of the imagery features male deer. Martin also has a couple of paintings in the show.

Ben Cuevas’ work in the show contains photographs taken with a vintage camera given to him by a queer elder and accompanying knit pieces using a knit stitch called “faggotted fringe”, an intentional use of inadvertently queer language.

Cuevas created these pieces for a body of work called “Queering the Landscape”, and with them, he said his goal is to fight against the heteronormative and colonialist history of Western landscape painting. “I really wanted to work against that and find a way of representing landscape that was inherently queer,” said Cuevas.

The uniting thread for all of the artists is queer visibility. Each of them has their unique histories, stories, and themes in their artwork, but they all highlight the importance of bringing awareness to queer identity in rural spaces.

“It’s really important for people to know that queer people exist in rural spaces,” said Cuevas, “These spaces aren’t just red-state monoliths. Queer people are everywhere and thriving.”

The In Plain Sight show will be held at the Old Masonic Hall, Breck Create’s exhibition space, in Breckenridge, Colorado from January 27th to April 28th, 2024, with events featuring the artists scheduled throughout the show.

This story was produced through the Daily YonderRural Reporting Fellowship, with support from the LOR Foundation. LOR works with people in rural places to improve quality of life. This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Ilana Newman is the Cortez Reporting Fellow for the Daily Yonder, a publication providing news, commentary, and analysis about and for rural America. Ilana lives in Dolores, Colorado, and writes about the environment, health, and anything that affects her rural community.