Every year for the past six years, Suzanne Kachmar has held a summer exhibit, "SAMESEX," to showcase LGBT artists and work with LGBT themes, at her City Lights Gallery. This year, around the time art submissions were due, the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando became the site of a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 49 people. It was the deadliest attack on LGBT people in the nation's history.
Kachmar pushed back the submissions deadline. "I figured people would want to make work about it," Kachmar said. Several of them did. The exhibit opening Thursday, July 21, at the downtown Bridgeport art space is both a salute to gay artists and a statement of grief and anger.
In a painting called "Pulse" by Diane Smith of Milford, a young man, spattered with blood, sits on a curb, his head between his knees. No explanation is given for where he is and why he is bloody, but in none is needed.
A work by Ricky Mestre, also called "Pulse" shows a young Hispanic man — it was Latin dance music night at Pulse and most of the victims were Hispanic — kneeling beside a gravestone with all of the names of the victims carved into it.
The initials of those victims also are seen in the base of Valerie Riveras Rhodes' sculpture "I Am What I Am." Rhodes painted those initials into an array of smooth black rocks at the feet of a mannequin with a skull for a head, the whole construction painted the colors of the gay pride flag.
Other artworks use the gay-pride multicolored spectrum as a backdrop to illustrate other dilemmas LGBT Americans face every day, especially in this divisive election year. "I'm seeing a lot more rainbow flags. It used to be considered trite. Now we see that's baloney. It's a nurturing sight," Kachmar said. "If stereotypes exist, let's use a positive one that brings a sense of joy."
Sue Czark humorously comments on gender neutrality in restrooms with four small pieces showing toilet paper, a urinal, a toilet and the male/female stick figures against a rainbow motif. Angelina Kendra's fiber-art piece "Let Them Eat Cake" uses the flag motif to jab at the Indiana bakery that refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.
Allan Dudek's collage also tackles the issue of gender neutrality in restrooms. It depicts J. Edgar Hoover in a dress in the foreground, while in the background FBI agents ask restroom users to show proof of their genitalia before entering.
Not all of the artwork in the show is political or even sad. Karen Loprete's bright and cheerful fiber art hangs next to Ellen Schinderman's portraits of Divine and RuPaul and Michael Corey's sculpture that turns a multicolored stackable pill planner into a gay-pride-colored base for a trophy. A spectacular headdress used by the late Bridgeport-area drag queen Sassie Saltimboca is displayed near photos of Sassie taken by David Kent.
Other artists in the show include Tom Evans, Ken Hopkins, Cassandra Mendoza, Stefan Novotny and Richard Taddei.
Kachmar holds her exhibit every year in conjunction with a Pride Walk that begins at the gallery, winds its way around McLevy Green and ends at the gallery. This year, a band will be performing in the park during the event, as part of the city's "Downtown Thursdays" entertainment series.
In a poignant coincidence, the band will be playing Latin dance music. "We didn't plan it that way, but it is a beautiful thing," Kachmar said.
SAMESEX 2016 ART EXHIBIT OPENING RECEPTION AND PRIDE WALK will be held Thursday, July 21, at City Lights Gallery, 855 Main St. in Bridgeport, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The parade starts at 7:30. The event is co-sponsored by Triangle Community Center. The exhibit will run until Aug. 30. Regular gallery hours are Wednesday and Friday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday noon to 4 p.m. citylightsgallery.org.