LGBTQ+ exhibition strengthens ties between East and West Kootenay

“Bent On Art” features a broad selection of work by LGBTQ+ artists in the Kootenay region

A new art exhibition promises to strengthen ties between the East and West Kootenay, and provide LGBTQ+ artists with a platform to express themselves.

“Bent On Art” features a broad selection of work by LGBTQ+ artists in the Kootenay region in mediums ranging from digital art and photography to pottery and painting.

The exhibition launched at the Fernie Museum on Thursday, September 27 with a soft opening that attracted about 12 people.

It will provide the backdrop for FUZE: Pride Party, which will be hosted by the museum in collaboration with the Elk Valley Pride Festival on October 12.

Fernie Museum Executive Director Ron Ulrich said the museum wanted to do something relevant to the community and to coincide with Pride.

“We had originally talked internally about maybe putting out a call to artists in the Kootenay region to participate and literally, that same day, I got this call for artists from Nelson for a show about queer artists in the Kootenays,” he said.

Ulrich quickly phoned Bent On Art organizer Samonte Cruz, who agreed to collaborate.

The mixed-gender, mixed-race Filipino artist was inspired to start organizing within the Nelson LGBTQ+ arts community after moving to the area in 2015 to attend Kootenay Studio Arts.

“When I moved to the Kootenays I was impressed to find such a supportive and thriving the arts scene but was surprised by the lack of opportunities for LGBTQ+ artists to promote their work, especially given the long history of Pride events in the region,” said Cruz.

Ulrich said the partnership provides more exposure for the artists involved and strengthens ties between west and east Kootenays, and LGBTQ+ community.

The concept of a museum that exhibits both history and art in Fernie was in fact based on Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History.

“We really see the Touchstones Nelson museum as kind of our sister museum, so we have been looking for ways to create some dialogue between the east and west,” said Ulrich.

“This is a wonderful opportunity that kind of landed in our lap and we really felt it was a great way to begin to develop those relationships between the two museums, and between the two art and history communities.”

Ulrich helped to select the works that would be exhibited and attended the reception in Nelson along with Fernie Pride Society president Sara Funk.

“We were quite amazed at how engaged the art community there was in this exhibit and the artists themselves,” he said.

Prior to the Fernie opening, members of the local LGBTQ+ community were invited to create abstract self-portraits with art teacher Dan Whillans at The Valley Social on September 13.

The 12 self-portraits feature as part of the Bent On Art exhibition.

“For us it’s about inclusion, it’s about welcoming people into the circle,” said Ulrich.

“This is really what this show is about – it’s about resiliency, it’s about acceptance, it’s about validation, it’s about identity and it’s about, first and foremost, these people are artists and they happen to be LGBTQ.

“For us, it’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase a body of work that has been produced by communities of people both in the West and the East Kootenay.”

Bent On Art will show at the Fernie Museum until October 14 with exhibiting artists to attend FUZE, which will feature live performance art, appetizers, a cash bar and two floors of music from 7 p.m. on October 12.

The Bent On Art: Kootenay Queer and Trans Festival is made possible by community partners including the Nelson and District Women’s Centre, Kootenay Gallery of Art, Fernie Museum, Fernie Pride, and Samonte Cruz Studios.

It is funded by the Province, Columbia Basin Trust and Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance.

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Bent On Art opened at the Fernie Museum last month. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

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