Visual Art and Design
In the early twentieth century, the visual arts offered ways to express queer identity with some degree of safety, guarded by symbolism and the flexibility of interpretation. Artists like Jasper Johns, born in Augusta, and his sometime partner and fellow artist Robert Rauschenberg would encode references to their relationship in their paintings, even as Johns would insist in 1988 that “I don’t want my work to be an exposure of my feelings.” Renowned Georgia artist Freddie Styles, who held residencies at Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College, painted non-figurative works that often reflected on the Madison and Atlanta environments where he grew up and at times on the navigation of queer life within them. His center triptych panel “Red Door” displayed at the High Museum of Art in 1980, for example, depicts an enticing, partially open door that Styles said represents “the entrance to the legendary gay club known as the ‘Marquette,’” founded in the 1960s and “one of the oldest Black gay clubs in the South.” The visual arts also fostered important communal work. In the late 1980s, a group of queer and alternative artists founded the collective TABOO to create space in Atlanta for explicit and challenging work deemed controversial in the mainstream art scene. From 1988 to 1999, the group’s four core members, Larry Jens Anderson, Michael Venezia, King Thackston, and David Fraley curated their own shows and sold self-designed t-shirts to fund their projects. The LGBTQ+ arts scene in Atlanta has only grown over time and made room for more diverse voices to assert their place through projects like Ni Aquí Ni Allá (“neither here nor there”), a collective of Latino artists and creators of a 2018 installation project that explores and re-imagines the intersections of queer, feminist, Hispanic and Latin American identities.