Community Voices in the Galleries: Terrence Wolfe on Identity Through the Lens of Nan Goldin's Work

Community Voices in the Galleries: Terrence Wolfe on Identity Through the Lens of Nan Goldin's Work

On Thursday, October 19, the PMA hosted "Community Voices in the Galleries: Identity Through the Lens of Nan Goldin's Work," a conversation facilitated by artist and educator Terrence Wolfe and David Thete, Creative Director of the Kesho Wazo art collaborative. Below is Terrence Wolfe's reflections on the event. For David Thete's reflections, click here.

Nan Goldinʼs work showcases the fringes; individuals that society deems “other.”

American society is considered to be a beacon of diversity, yet there is a clear spectrum of acceptability that grants an individual the pursuit of happiness.

Whiteness, straightness, cis identity, ability, and a being untouched by addiction are to be worn as badges of honor, striking a clear line between the acceptable and the second class. In our recent history, there is a fanfare of progressive values that have been said to bring light to our people. These strides are mainstream, and still garner a clear definition of acceptability.

The exhibition “Nan Goldin” grants us a lens to the other. It is, in theory, a show that can bring perspective to Maine, a state whose conservative values are considered akin to Northern Pride and simply minding one’s own business. Minding one’s own business can take a dangerous turn when it means ignoring injustices, and state and federal mandated segregation, and death sentences. Inequity is a collaborative effort.

Nanʼs work provides visibility. Visibility can bring us a step closer to voice and validity. To understanding. To empathy. Unfortunately, the sedative of normalcy is strong. In a conversation that followed a walk through the gallery, comments were made in favor of ignorance to current standings—a suggestion that societal divisions are something created within the individual. This is a case of colorblind ideology: a form of racism that commonly remains unchallenged, due to the positive nature of the words spoken. We see similar ideologies that are applied to the many facets of oppression. This is concerning, for it enables the voice of the privileged over the experience of the oppressed.

Our hope might be that these photographs can prove indisputable. Nan “created a history by recording a history,” something that is now a possibility for many individuals who have access to smart phones and social media. When this is embraced as a tool, marginalized individuals gain a platform to voice their lives; and it becomes something that is difficult to deny.

Nan Goldin created this work to hold on to her memories. She has discussed the loss of the majority of her friends and lovers showcased in her photographs to the AIDS epidemic. This was an American Holocaust that is largely undiscussed. This collection provides an undeniable silence, a reminder that there is power in representation and remembrance.

This art does not demand to be listened to, but, rather, craves to exist. As Americaʼs façade begins to wane, we see the people who have suffocated under its weight. I hope the poignancy of this work is understood, explored, and shared. It may not be easy, or a feel-good endeavor, but Nan Goldin is quick to remind us that suffering and loss are inevitable in the fight for love.

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October 26, 2017

Terrence Wolfe is a queer artist engaged in youth-teaching artistry and local communities with hopes to engage individuals with ideas of radical self-acceptance, radical communication, understandings of privilege, and reclamation of humanity and empathy.