Library staff member places second in VLA LGBTQIA+ Forum Art Contest

Posted on June 6, 2022

By Drea George - Multimedia Specialist

The Virginia Library Association’s LGBTQIA+ Forum held a contest that challenged librarians and library staff across Virginia to explore what LGBTQIA+ means to them through art. Drea George, our Multimedia Specialist, won second place and will have an opportunity to display her work at the VLA Conference. She writes about the creative process behind developing her artwork in this blog.

I learned about this competition from my colleague and friend, Alex Flores. I was excited to participate because my work almost always focuses on the human form, and I often experiment with queer themes. The opportunity challenged me to deconstruct and rebuild my technical approach. I broke out of my typically rigid, clean style and adapted a looser, more organic mark-making technique. I enjoyed the making process because I was called to do the work of analyzing what “queer joy” meant to me, not only as a bisexual woman, but simply as an individual with a unique background and compelling stories to tell.

“Queer joy,” according to the corporate giant understanding, is made of brightly-colored silhouettes, hands clasped together, and flashy letters declaring “Proud” and “Love is Love.” This approach skyrocketed in popularity after the legalization of gay marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. While that strategy has continued to ride the coattails of that success in the years since, it is rapidly losing its luster in the eyes of the community. Such imagery paints the

The artwork Drea George created to express her definition of queer joy

queer community in broad brushstrokes; there are no stories woven in, no real voices heard.

It has become egregiously clear that large corporations willfully exploit queer symbolism to capitalize on a community disenchanted with big brands – demonstrably only during the single month of the year in which it is profitable for them to do so. With this in mind, I deliberately avoided this attitude with my piece. Instead of echoing a media saturated with low-hanging visual fruit, I aimed to explore and showcase what queer joy means to me in a deeply authentic, personal, and intimate way.

I call viewers to consider an angle that isn’t talked about in popular media – the idea that the queer experience, especially in its emerging stages, is no celebration. Rather, it consists of uprooting convention; it is unlearning and relearning. It is a becoming, a powerful and painful act of transformation in the name of personal freedom. My own experience has been one of self-parenting – a gentle yet persistent ushering – into self acceptance and love. Early queer experience in particular, for many, is framed far more by shame than pride. To be queer is to learn to navigate and experiment with a new mode of being, at unpredictable costs. It is learning to both contain and manage a pure, burning, and inextricable part of one’s humanity amid suffocating shame, guilt, and doubt. To be queer is radically existing in one’s truest form; to be queer is to learn to breathe.

For this piece, I chose to utilize old world symbolism to classify the sapphic experience as not only one that is ancient, but ultimately cosmic and universal. Compositionally, I referenced tarot cards, namely, the major arcana cards “The Lovers” and “The Moon.” The meaning of the ‘Lovers’ card talks about relationships, connection, and sacrifice. I wanted the relationship between the two figures to reflect a utopian vision of intimacy emerging as a consequence of personal sacrifice. The pose references the earliest printed iterations of tarot cards from the mid-fifteenth century. But instead of standing, the lovers are seated, looking up at the moon.

The meaning of the ‘Moon’ card varies, but it generally discusses intuition, dreams, and confronting fear and uncertainty. For many queer people, uncertainty is a recurring theme, and can manifest in a variety of ways. In particular, as a direct result of queerness, uncertainty permeates interpersonal change, and generates anxiety about whether one will be lucky enough to love and be loved in the way they so deeply desire. The use of the moon as a halo intersecting with the figures’ heads both indicates that the figures have surpassed uncertainty and achieved peak queer joy, and presents that achievement as one that is holy, sacred, and divine.

Tarot cards were not the only influence on my stylistic choices. I call viewers to recognize a highly informed minimalism. Drawing influence from Matisse, my choice oef color palette and contrast is bold and bright; the work's line quality and shape language are influence by Picasso. There is careful consideration in the balance of bold color and soft feeling, of technical accuracy and organic forms. While I initially intended to work exclusively in realism, my wrestling match with perfectionism forced me to push myself in new directions. I was rewarded by an image that felt more true to myself.

I believe this piece to be successful for greater reasons than performing well in a contest. Throughout the making process, I have come to define my queer joy. My queer joy is making a home with a warm soul, looking through a great window at the wild and untamed future stretched out before us like a yawn in a quiet morning; my queer joy is a relationship as exercised with patience and nurturing as the garden we will grow bearing lush red fruit. It is a sigh on a breast, a tucking of hair, a square palm cradling a face, a hand gently raised to a mouth. It is the splendor in a caress, a nose tucked into a neck. It is cradling the back of my partner’s head like the most cherished wine glass, a delicate indulgence that instead of wine, holds an equally intoxicating cocktail of sweet passions and their own raw unraveling. It is satisfying the hunger, soothing the ache, resolving the deep, tired yearning. It is being thrust, finally, despite it all, into a joyous rhythm to which both of our hearts can dance.

Overall, this piece is a wish. I am still hungering, aching, yearning, but comforted by the instinct that this is what it means to be queer. The feeling is equivalent to being so strong in faith as to not fear death, knowing that something greater is waiting warmly on the other side; I am granted peace with the knowledge that achieving queer joy is only a matter of time. I would like to conclude by sharing two lines from a poem I wrote years ago that sums what I have discussed here:

Among soft warm forms, My heart melts like wax.

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