by Darryan Miller
“Uhauled: Love as a Performance” will be a one-night pop up gallery at the Norfolk NEON Festival, that centers around queer love. The gallery will showcase multiple queer artists as each will have their own U-Haul truck to display their work in. The event aims to provide a safe space for queer women specifically, as the general social climate seems to lack them. This is the second year that curator Cat Baker, has worked with the NEON Festival to organize such an inclusive, interactive, and unique experience for all walks of life.
“Originally, this idea formed because in Norfolk, especially, there aren’t really any big celebratory spaces for queer women. And if there are, those spaces are quickly overrun by people who are straight identifying and also a lot of gay men take over those spaces.” Baker said.
Often times when we think of gay culture as how it’s portrayed in the media, we see the acceptable “party gay man” but there’s more to it than that. Queer women deserve a space too, that doesn’t oversexualize them or place them in a stereotypical box; one that’s free of pitting different identifying queer women against each other, instead highlighting the positivity and cultural awareness within a marginalized community.
“Hershee Bar was the only queer woman designated space in Norfolk and it was shut down. And everywhere else in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, [spaces] are centered around gay men. It’s the same in DC and Richmond, so I feel like a lot of the gay culture is like ‘party gay men,’ and that is like the young culture of the gay community. I [felt like] this is a time and space where we [queer women] make this, we have complete control, this is about queer women, and we control who takes over that space. This just celebrates, highlights, and also very much normalizes, queer women.” Baker said.
This year, the event will house a whole new slew of artists from DC and Virginia as Baker wants to incorporate new ones every year. They include Faye Stein, Deep Pool, Aurele Gould, Koren Grace, Alexandria Jones, Nava Levenson, Marra Sherrier and Cat Baker herself.
“This year has quite an array, [of art experiences] with different types of art, such as three-dimensional works, writing, video installations and a lot of photography.” Said Baker, “There will be three-dimensional, large scale replications of a bathroom but everything is hand sewn. There’s an artist performing vocally, Koren Grace, a Norfolk artist/singer-songwriter that will have a set-up in her truck as kind of a makeshift stage.” Baker said.
When talking about her experience curating a show like Uhauled, Baker says event planning comes very easy for her. “Everything within the event is paid for, nothing comes out of the artists’ pockets, and MJ’s Tavern and The NEON District are sponsors. MJ’s Tavern made a donation to us so that we could actually afford the U-Hauls.” said Baker.
“On the day of [the event] its very hectic and crazy but we’re all very organized people. Setting up is very hands on and enjoyable for me and because I did it last year, I know what I need to do this year so it’s not as nerve-racking,” Baker said. “It’s really fun to have a prompt and to make art around the prompt and it’s also very interesting to see the [other artists, their process, and how they make art.]”
Housing the works of art in U-Hauls stems from a running joke in the queer community about moving in after the first date. “[The joke is that there’s a U-Haul Lesbian,] which means you bring your U-Haul truck on the first date, you move in immediately. So, [I thought] this is kind of like a funny idea to have it in U-Haul trucks, to be about queer women, but also this gallery can go anywhere that there’s a parking space. It’s very accessible, it can be done in cities, in more rural places, it can be done indoors, outdoors, anywhere that can hold a truck,” Baker said.
Not only is Baker a curator but she’s also a mixed media artist and photographer. When asked how she promotes herself and others, Baker contributes a lot of it to networking. “Every single city has its own pocket of artists and I think I was lucky enough to stumble into that. I was invited to shows and to be in shows and a lot [of it is] in person, marketing yourself. It’s social media heavy – I have an art page and I’ll post my art with a lot of hashtags and that’s kind of how you get followers, and how you get strangers to talk to, to engage with you.” she said.
“There are a couple of people in Norfolk who are doing more gorilla canvassing with physical posters. A lot of it is Facebook Events, asking all my artists to share, being on Instagram and tagging [the city of] Norfolk, our sponsors, tagging other artists. Everyone is so involved with social media, people really do see it.” Baker said.
When asked what people should take away from the event, Baker said she hopes they recognize “the objectification that queer women do feel from other people and that just because we’re women, or just because we’re nonbinary, etc, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to sexualize us and it’s not okay to glorify [our] relationships, or ourselves as people.”