According to Christina Linden, art gives “an opportunity for the expression of politics in ways that are more nuanced, more personal, often also more compelling and moving than other forms of expression.”
Linden is an associate professor in curatorial practice at California College of the Arts and the interim executive director of the publishing arts media organization “Art Practical.” She is also a curator; her exhibition “Queer California: Untold Stories” was recently on display at the Oakland Museum of California.
The goal of Linden’s “Queer California” was to give a space to stories from a community that had been sidelined throughout history, and it was not a project she rushed into. All told, it took her three years to research everything for the exhibit.
“(I) had some trepidation just because it is such a broad topic. It’s really impossible to be completely inclusive about that topic, and the project, of course, represents people for whom inclusion has often been a fraught issue,” Linden said. “So it wasn’t an assignment that I took lightly, but it was one, especially as a queer person myself, that I was very excited to take on because it felt long overdue that that particular large, broad spectrum of people had that kind of specific and direct representation in an exhibition at the museum.”
The exhibition showcased a mixture of history and art, pulling together historical facts and artifacts alongside paintings, sculptures and other works of art made by LGBTQ+ artists who dealt with what Linden described as “some facet of their own self-understanding, with some facet of the way they form communities.”
Linden sees that combination as something “absolutely political,” though not overtly so in every artist’s case. The importance of this political stand lies in the history of the communities it focuses on.
“You know, those are communities who’ve been subject to erasure so many times and over the course of, really, centuries,” Linden said. “So … going back into records, seeing all the places where those records are so partial because of that kind of erasure, I felt that really … highlighting all of the ways in which those communities have intersected … (and) looking specifically at the pressures of living as an under-recognized group of people or as individuals who were not able to express that identity and find other people to bond together with — that was what was really essential.”
Linden saw “Queer California” as a way to bring people together through an acknowledgment of the long trajectory of persecution and rights both rescinded and won.
“I think that in moments like this where, you know, rights are diminishing rather than being expanded, it’s even more important than in other times to really acknowledge the history of the fight that people have already put forward for civil rights,” Linden said.
As much as in any other civil rights movements from the past or present, the one LGBTQ+ people are facing has, in large parts, been about the politicization of their own bodies.
Linden’s research for “Queer California” informed her of extensive examples of the physical restrictions placed on LGBTQ+ individuals, such as the pseudoscientific station set up on Treasure Island during World War II where people who had been deemed supposedly non-normative, especially soldiers exposed to be gay men during the war, were subject to medical experiments.
And during the eugenics era in California, anyone deemed supposedly non-normative was put in institutions and subjected to sterility operations in an effort by some to promote what they considered to be so-called better humanity moving forward.
Looking toward the present and the ways in which the Trump administration has worked against the advancement of rights for LGBTQ+ people, Linden commented on how this physical politicization has manifested today.
“I mean … we can think about the ways in which people who are gender-nonconforming are forced to make difficult decisions about how they might have access to bathroom facilities on a daily basis as a really important and current example of that politicization,” Linden said.
That being only one example, there is a lot of social and policy change needed going forward, and not just for the LGBTQ+ community alone.
“I think that’s one thing that came up for me in putting this exhibition together, you know, there’s something particular to the experience of LGBTQ people, but there’s also a way I think anybody who’s been made to feel as if they don’t belong can relate to that position and that kind of fight for rights in the past,” Linden said.
When asked about her perception of the politics and community in the Bay Area specifically, Linden said she thinks there’s always room for change. Linden also noted that the community, subject to fracture and infighting, has not always worked together well to combat these forms of discrimination and injustice.
“I wish there could be less of that kind of fracture,” Linden said. “But at the same time, I think, you know, each of the individuals that I had the privilege to research, each of those groups have rich histories of bonding together and needing to do that,” Linden said. “It’s a rich and beautiful set of communities that have not always been unified, and it’s a complicated history but a really beautiful one.”