Partners and co-producers, Kelli Simpkins and Adithi Chandrashekar are creating a curated, generative online arts gallery called Queer In(n).
The inaugural unveiling of a five-foot-by-six-foot wheat paste portrait of longtime LGBTQ activist and bar owner Marge Summit will take place at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., in Andersonville on Wed., July 21, 6-7p.m. Queer multidisciplinary artist Sam Kirk is the first commissioned artist for Queer In(n).
"Our website is inspired by interviews with Chicago LGBTQIA+ youth/elders and their advocates," said Simpkins. "We are commissioning Chicago queer artists to creatively interpret and propose a new work based on one assigned interview."
Simpkins decided to call it Queer In(n)with the parentheses around the second "n"to denote the twin inspirations for the project. It is an artistic digital refuge, not unlike an inn where people can find respite, inspiration, joy and connection; and it's a site for non-violent resistance akin to a sit-in and other forms of occupied protest.
"At Queer In(n), all guests are welcome, but this project is intentional in its efforts to create home specifically for queer humans, storytellers and artists," said Simpkins. "Queer art is culture making and policy changing, and queer artists and activists have changed the zeitgeist from the beginning. This is a place to feel less alone and to see reflections of self in the radical revolutions and artistic excellence of queer contributions.
"Adithi and I will co-produce each segment from beginning to end: structuring proposals, connecting artist/interviewee, collecting research and shaping the final installment together as editors. We will take all necessary steps to ensure an ethical framework for art making at all levels of engagement and collaboration."
If the subject is an elder they will pair them with a younger artist and vice versa.
Process will be a huge component of each installation: documenting specific phases of the art making, as well as interviews with the artist(s) before, during and after their creative work. Once the art is finished, they will record the intergenerational piece and do a final interview with the artist and subject together, where the subject will see the art for the first time.
The July 21 unveiling will include Simpkins and Chandrashekar conducting an interview with Summit and Kirk.
When asked about the catalyst for Queer In(n), Simpkins said it was motivated by this unprecedented time.
"It is an aspiration born in the midst of confinement and uprising, and sparked by loneliness," said Simpkins. "I spent the majority of the last year missing community and connection and contemplating how others were coping during quarantine. I thought particularly of the youth/elders that collaborators and I interviewed for a documentary theater piece titled The Loneliness Project and wondered if they were okay.
"Add to that the undeniable call for social justice. I was reminded of the inspiring elders we interviewed whose activism gave rise to increased civil rights and basic decency. Alongside this political and social unrest was a personal unrest due to COVID-19 distancing and lack of community contact. We felt compelled to create a space for togetherness, one that honors both our history and our future, even when we are apart."
Simpkins said they chose Summit for their first installation "because she is our most senior elder, though she is super young at heart, and because she has advocated for LGBTQ+ folx her entire life. When I interviewed her a few years ago, I learned that she used her life to make space for and enhance the lives of queer peoplewith her bar ownership, her story and her activism. Marge initiated the Gay $ Project, and with Frank Kellas, created a red ink stamp to mark paper currency that circulated through LGBTQ+ businesses, demonstrating the queer economic impact on everyday commerce."
Sam Kirk was selected because she is an artist that Simpkins has admired for years.
"I love that Sam uses public art-making to explore culture and politics, and advocate for equity, visibility, inclusion and progress," said Simpkins. "She is a fierce talent and activist, and I am deeply grateful that she said yes."
"Queer In(n) is important to me because it is an opportunity to not only explore the history of residents in Chicago that we do not know about, but also to make intergenerational connections that I feel have been lost within our community," said Kirk.
Simpkins said the unveiling is being held at The Call because Summit is a former queer bar owner; also, Summit and wife Janan Lindley were married there. The couple is also friends with The Call's owners, and they said it is their favorite LGBTQ bar in their neighborhood. The portrait will remain at The Call for the foreseeable future.
"I thought it would be wonderful to have her portrait hanging in a queer bar so that queer patrons could learn about her history and what she has done for the city of Chicago," said Simpkins.
"I am so proud to be the first selected for this project, and also totally proud to have Sam Kirk doing my portrait," said Summit. "That is like icing on my cake and I cannot wait to see it."
In early 2022, Queer In(n)'s official website will be available to the wider world. The site will be delineated by the artist/interviewee installations each having their own "room" at the Inn. Within each proverbial room visitors will find new works of art inspired by queer Chicagoans.
"Each installation will also have interviews with the artists about their journey and processes, and will feature new interviews with the subjects, culminating in a shared intergenerational final interview," said Simpkins. "There will be photos and videos of the art in its completed form and in the process of its creation. We will have audio of the original interviews and bios of everyone involved. Down the line, I envision an expansive digital platform with monthly installments of new pieces and a commitment to long-term sustainability."
Trans icon Mama Gloria Allen has been chosen as Queer In(n)'s next subject. Librettist Marquese Carter will write an operatic aria inspired by Allen that will subsequently be composed by Matthew Recio and performed by vocalist Jalissa Spell.
"If this quarantine and civil unrest have revealed anything, it is a need to create a new and inclusive world in every category," said Simpkins. "Queer In(n) is attempting to do this by crafting art with, by, and for the communities it represents."
Chandrashekar added, "Through Queer In(n), we hope the art and stories we showcase will uplift and celebrate the joys of queer lives, and enact a kind of revolution that allows all people, of all ages, to speak truth to power."
Queer In(n)'s funding has been made possible through donations to a 3AP campaign, supported by Chicago's 3Arts organization.