Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Close-up: the Chosen Family Portraits at the Museum of Vancouver

I like to think that I spent the summer of 1995 in a Russian country home with my own banya. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, but I came awfully close by spending it reading Anna Karenina as part of my advanced summer reading for an IB English literature class. I was immediately struck by the epitaph Tolstoy uses to open his magnum opus:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Every family may have its own quirks and dysfunctions, which in and of itself doesn’t make a family unhappy. What makes a family unhappy is the inability to live with those quirks and dysfunctions, forgive transgresses, and accept each other wholly and completely. This is especially true for the queer community.

As the LGBT community is comprised, like all other social groups such as immigrants, political and religious communities, from members of all backgrounds, the concept of community must naturally extend to form a de facto family structure. The idea of family must by necessity lend support, guidance and unconditional love to each of its members.

The Vancouver Queer Film Festival, which will be held from August 11 to 21, 2011, recognized this. In 2010, they organized a large-scale art project called “Chosen Family Portraits”. Led by photographer Sarah Race and journalist Sarah Buchanan, the project is a series of photo essays featuring local members of the queer community posing with those they consider their “chosen family” members. These are not their biological family, nor do these subjects by any means reject their blood ties. It is simply a project calling attention to the fact that a lot of queer youth wouldn’t have survived had it not been for the love and support of those nearest and dearest to them. The labours of this project can be seen from August 3 to September 30, 2011 at the Museum of Vancouver. Chosen Family Portraits will also be exhibited as part of the Queer Arts Festival at the Roundhouse Arts and Recreation Centre, from July 26 to August 13. A select number of portraits will be posted on commemorative streetlight posts throughout the city. The project is supported by the City of Vancouver’s 125th Anniversary, the Arts Partners in Creative Development, and the Government of Canada. Seems this family is getting a lot of love.

The subjects of this project include a number of the Blogger’s close personal friends – gay, straight, bisexual or otherwise – who have gathered the members of their own “chosen families” to pose for the portraits. The one I’m fondest of features a certain bow-tied gentleman, posing with a few of our mutual friends, including his (straight) best friend, who married one of my own long-time friends not too long ago. Everywhere I go, whenever I see the picture on the cover of the festival flier, I stop strangers and tell them about these special people. And I wonder how many of the haters are secretly jealous at how happy our own chosen families are, seeing as we’re all alike. In fact, our families might be just like your own biological kin (the ones who still owe you money for that failed business venture and won’t return your calls).

You will find more information on the exhibit here. There are a few more of the 28 portraits after the jump. (Although I’d love to have participated, the sheet number of my chosen family would have been what they called in old Hollywood movies “crowd scenes” and require a stadium.)