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We all wear masks for different reasons. Some wear them to appear more confident, others wear them to act funnier than they may otherwise be. I wear mine because I’m terrified of facing the consequences of being myself - a gay man. My constant state of being is a mix of anxiety and fear that it’ll slip and I’ll be discovered, and then abandoned, ostracized from my family and those around me. These feelings have been on and off for me for the past decade since I came out to myself, and I found comfort in an unexpected place - Chick-Fil-A. The cow mask in my work references Chick-Fil-A and my employment there.
The restaurant had a less-than-reputable standing with the LGBT community while I worked there, and there were moments where the workplace felt cult-like. Full-grown adults gathered around watching old, creepy VCRs about Christianity, or automatically repeated phrases ingrained in them by the company months after leaving. However, I’d never worked with a more understanding and accepting group of people. My coworkers included straight, gay, and nonbinary individuals who made me feel like I could be open about myself for the first time, and that was liberating. I felt a comforting sense of togetherness with my queer coworkers, my fellow ‘cultists’ - we all had to wear our own masks to hide ourselves, our queerness - and yet we were vulnerable because we were in the public eye. We were hidden, yet vulnerable. The nudity and cow masks in my work represent this - the push and pull between being hidden, yet vulnerable to the eyes of others, as well as the figurative mask that I as a gay man wear to protect myself.
The work explores the many feelings associated with wearing this mask. While wearing it includes a sense of fear, doing so among fellow ‘cultists’ made me feel less alone. ‘FEELING YOU’, features a soft, yet impactful and intimate touch between two ‘cultists,’ reflecting on the way shared small moments of vulnerability provide comfort. Additionally, absurdity and hyperbole diffuse tension and deflect fear for me. Why would a naked man in a cow mask stand alone in a drive-thru lane after hours? If customers have the audacity to sing while waiting for food, maybe there are people out there who are lawless enough to fuck on a fast-food counter? Ridiculous lines of thought like this distract from the looming knot of anxiety forming in my chest.
I am inspired by the queer men who have come before me - men who were brave and open about their sexuality in ways that I aspire to. Hugh Steers creates a balance between intimacy and anguish in his work. There’s a beautiful solidarity in soft touches that are shared in moments of suffering and anguish. I am also drawn to the way Robert Mapplethorpe’s work questions the erotic and the obscene. I believe there is bravery in obscenity - in a willingness to put out work that others may openly scoff at, or be disgusted by. I find his ‘behind the black curtain’ photographs to be compelling depictions of powerful men in vulnerable situations. While these men willingly gave up some measure of control and freedom to someone that had power over them, they not only retained their own agency, but also created their own power in turn.
Danielle Muzine; Jeanne Beaver; Todd Herzberg; Timothy Martin
The work on display was nine digital images printed out and mounted on foam boards hung on the wall, with one television displaying three images and looping through them. My work relates to me and my fear of coming out as gay - the fear that I’ll be ostracized and abandoned because of it. I’ve had to deal with this fear for many years, and found solace in a strange place - Chick-Fil-A. The experiences that I had and people that I met there helped me and comforted me, letting me know that I was not alone. At the same time, the experience felt weirdly close to being in a cult - with strange team meetings, and having certain phrases so ingrained in you that replying to someone with it was automatic. The cow masked men are a physical representation of this cult-like feeling - while also being nude, yet hidden behind their mask. Much like how I felt as a hidden gay man.
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Gresham, Ian, "BITE" (2021). B.F.A. Practicum Exhibition (ART 498). 75.