Where sex and race collide

Posted on 26 Apr 2012 at 6:05pm

SMU’s Noah Simblist teams with The Modern to explore gays of color in art

TALK SHOW | SMU prof Noah Simblist moderates a panel discussion on queers of color in art Tuesday at The Modern.
TALK SHOW | SMU prof Noah Simblist moderates a panel discussion on queers of color in art Tuesday at The Modern.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

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DISIDENTIFICATION
The Modern Museum of Art, 3200 Darnell St., Fort Worth. May 1 at 7 p.m. Free. TheModern.org.

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The Modern Museum of Art of Fort Worth’s current exhibit was destined to spark discussion. Glenn Ligon: America relates the artist’s stories as a gay African-American and the cultures surrounding him. With pieces that reflect his identity in both worlds, the intersection can be conflicting and glorious.

But that discussion takes actual form this week. Noah Simblist, an associate professor of art at SMU, will moderate a panel of speakers at Disidentification: Race, Sexuality and

Contemporary Art. The session explores theories behind Jose Esteban Munoz’s book Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Including both academic and artistic panelists, Simblist is sure the talk will answer some questions and maybe ask more.

“We wanted to do a panel that doesn’t just focus on the racial politics, but also addressed sexuality,” Simblist says. “Sexuality manifested itself so in Ligon’s work.”

Simblist worked with Terri Thornton, curator of education at The Modern, to create the event. Or rather, Thornton went to Simblist for his past experience involving queer-themed art, most recently an exhibit at UT Austin focusing on artists working in perspectives of identity and gender.

“I went to [Simblist] because he had just curated Queer States, and I felt like he had insights that could be useful,” Thornton says. “He was familiar with Munoz’s book and I thought that sounded like a great premise. But I credit him a lot with this panel and curator Andrea Karnes, who really wanted programming that addressed this component. She felt like the topic was something that could get easily bypassed.”

The panel will include artist Annette Lawrence, SMU art history professor Roberto Tejada, Rose Pulliam of Allgo (an Austin-based organization for queer people of color) and Munoz himself. Both Thornton and Simblist mention that Munoz’s book is a complex read so each panelist would focus on the introduction of the book as the starting point for the evening.

“We were interested by how the work itself, irrespective of Ligon’s sexuality, makes its points,” Simblist says. “I began thinking how Disidentifications, written in 1996, would be applicable now and especially in response to the exhibit.”

Simblist sees the discussion as a way to expand on ideas of sexuality that still get played down today. With Ligon’s radical works depicting queer ideas, he wonders how that can even be overlooked.

“In a lot of critical reception of his work, that is often played down,” he explains. We want to supplement and enrich that with conversation that hasn’t been present so far. And hopefully in a way that adds new dimensions to the art.”

Both Simblist and Thornton are confident this panel can do that. The diversity of each will ably address the different intersections of race and queer frame of mind in the arena of artistic expression. The night will also show that The Modern is more than just a place to look at art.

“We want programming like this to take its natural order and if the idea is sincere and connected to who we are as a museum, it will be the organic experience for everyone,” Thornton says.

“The show and this panel is one piece of a much larger puzzle,” Simblist adds. “Ligon’s work doesn’t create a singular experience. There isn’t so much a challenge of being gay and black, but instead we see it’s an empowering combination. One can help understand the other. That’s one of the great things about this exhibit and that there are so many great ways to talk about it.” •

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2012.

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