Visual artists are a vital part of Kentucky’s Queer community. Thanks to the Great Meadows Foundation, which was launched in 2016 by contemporary art collector and philanthropist Al Shands (1928-2021) in order to critically strengthen and support visual art in Kentucky, Queer Kentucky will be featuring interviews with a number of these artists.
This exploration of Queer artists within Kentucky utilizes a different lens, this time emphasizing all facets of the artistic milieu, shifting onto the role of curator. Lexington-based Josh Porter is a politically motivated artist, whose curatorial works have emphasized the underemphasized: showcasing queerness in multiple facets, he seeks to display the works of marginalized and underrepresented local artists of the black, trans, and queer intersections of identity, and uses these works to create a cohesive vision of inclusion and clear message: queer people are here, and have always been.
When interviewing Josh, I found myself intrigued because of the mantle he wore: oftentimes, I find that the curator themself is often embroiled in the background work, responsible for the collection of works and always speaking for the artists and work, but rarely themselves and their vision and purpose when presenting media. Describing it as a form of “Artist PR”, he describes his work as “talking about the work for the artists, who often enjoy letting their work speak for itself.”
Entering university as a business and theater major, it’s easy to see how a love of performance could lead to a career and future of presenting works and a collective “show” for others to be audience to. This decision ended up swiftly changing after a studio art class — finding it to be a medium he enjoyed, Josh worked tirelessly, stacking up a passion for art history which lead to a double major. This would go on to influence a few selections later in life, which lead to the curatorial style he works towards. When looking at grad school programs, he was disinterested in the idea of pursuing a doctorate in Art History, finding that writing a book was not within his realm of desire and that he didn’t want to make a living as an artist. Discovering a new curatorial program at The University of Kentucky, something lit up.
“I never thought about being a curator, but it takes the two things I love the most and puts them together. I’m still in the art world, but I can take art that other people are making and give it a platform and organize it. Still a sort of creative endeavor, but tied into taking things others are creating and showcasing it in a specific way.” He finds that curating was about making connections, between artists separately, their own works, and what’s happening in their art collaboratively, and presenting this vision to create a discussion.
Beginning his program during COVID-19’s outbreak, a lot of his experience was isolative — in a time that is commonly spent making communications far and wide, Josh was restricted to his greater area — but that wasn’t a problem, as this nurtured his cohesive vision and helped produce the intimacy and historic relevance of his work. Because of the networking limitations, most of what he sought out and put together was based on the local community and local artists. This has been incredibly meaningful to him, allowing him to foster meaningful bonds and emphasize a community story, which became a part of his mindset when working with the Faulkner Morgan Archive for an internship. An organization that emphasizes queer art within a historical context, they are sociologically and ethnographically based, possessing multiple collections of photography that emphasized and preserved queer identity. While working there, his views became focused: he knew what kind of mediums he wanted to portray, and what stories he would uplift through his works. While as an artist, his work often had no theme, his work with the archive helped him personally with grasping and embracing his identity.
While the archive itself lacked manpower, he fostered more community outreach during his time there, allowing him to work with more local artists and display their works alongside the collections of the Faulkner Morgan Archive. He has emphasized how so much of queerness was hidden in shadows but was preserved. “I keep thinking about how photography is this tool for preserving queer stories that are untold, or completely hidden.” Because of this work, he notes that for his next project, he is contemplating a photographic collection, documenting queer life.
Collaborating with Lussi Brown Coffee Bar and Crossings Lexington, both lesbian-owned, and the Faulker Morgan Archive, Josh was able to bring forth forgotten local lesbian archival history to the local community it originated in.
His graduate thesis, MASCS: Masculinity Reimagined, reflects this interest in queer life, and the intersections of gender. MASCs was a collaborative experience, designed to celebrate and warm the viewers to masculinity. Josh stated that “When I was putting it together, I wanted it to feel celebratory. We always think about toxic masculinity. I want people to go into the show feeling better and optimistic, rather than saddened and disheartened.” he made this evident through his selection of pieces that all utilized texture to tell their stories: what better to convey the warmness and protection of masculinity than a soft fabric story, made of different textures both rough and soft?
Moises Salazar, 2022, for MASCS
Josh found himself attracted to the “materials and extravagance, but also the intricacies of the hand beading on tapestries by John Paul Morabito, and crocheted edges on Moises Salazar’s pieces, the soft, gentle, details.” While the show itself had its own story, the materials and composition of each piece told a story of its own, believing this to be a juxtaposition of the themes of masculinity present in MASCS.
To follow this work, Josh is returning to utilizing materials from the Faulkner Morgan gallery, for an experience titled “Here, Black, Femme & Queer”, which delivers on Josh’s goals of representing underrepresented Queer groups. At a time when certain titles or vernacular weren’t popular or utilized, this collection of images helps preserve and identify “Queer” identities and gender performance pre-AIDS era, to indicate this portion of history has not been erased and was always in existence, not something that simply manifested.
While the exhibit itself has been pushed back, he hopes it will be brought forth sometime soon. Following graduating from his program in May, Josh also finds himself on the job hunt — seeing the end of his academic career as something to prompt him to go forward onto something he enjoys doing, rather than a depressing sign of his experience ending.
While none of Josh’s curated exhibits are up at the moment of posting, please look forward to his future work and the launch of Here, Black, Femme & Queer. In addition, view Josh’s site and additional photography and works at his site here <https://www.itsjoshporter.com/> .