Fifty years ago this month, the police raided, as they often did, a popular gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Moments later the plainclothes officers found themselves dodging pennies, bottles and bricks, hurled at them by the Stonewall Inn’s fed-up patrons. Caught in the chaos that gave birth to the gay civil rights movement in the United States was a 17-year-old girl from Long Island and her drag king friend Vinny.
Though West Babylon resident Rusty Rose escaped the mug shot lineup, her likeness, articulated in thick impasto brushstrokes, is hanging today on a gallery wall at Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre as part of “Born This Way: A Celebration of Queer Art and Culture,” presented by the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The painting is among some 30 works being showcased in the Mosaic: LGBTQ+ art exhibition co-curated by Anu Annam, the creator of Rose’s portrait, and another participating artist, Kyle Montemurro.
“They call themselves ‘trailblazers,’ not ‘veterans.’ They are all still doing things,” notes Annam of her illustrious subject, who is also a poet and one of the show’s exhibiting artists. Included with the colorful, abstract contributions of Rose and her contemporary, figurative painter and tango dancer Con Artist, are images mostly representative “of what we’ve become after Stonewall,” says Annam. “I feel art is the most warm and noncombative way for members of the queer community to express themselves. It takes us out of the bar.”
Besides providing that opportunity, Annam, 47, and Montemurro, 24, are particularly excited by the dialogue the show has created between the generations. “It’s incredibly important that millennials like myself familiarize ourselves with their fight and understand their anger, otherwise our pride celebrations are nothing more than a meaningless corporate circus,” says Montemurro. Teaching an afterschool LGBTQ art program in Huntington, Annam sees today’s students reaping the benefits of the movement firsthand. “They feel comfortable and supported expressing themselves, whereas we were shunned.”
Both curators emphasize the importance of the exhibition’s inclusivity, relating stories of lesbian, gay, transgender, gender nonconforming, the midsexualities/asexuality, intersex and other marginalized individuals. Their stories are told in various forms from comic books as in the popular images of Greg Fox or Robert Stenzel’s assemblage “Unpacking the Elephant in the Room,” a miniature quilt diptych incorporating garments he wore before transitioning. The exhibition also showcases works by mixed-media artist Nicole Franz and artist and Patchogue gallery owner Jessica Valentin (aka Ratgrrl), strong supporters of the community.
“When you label people you make assumptions,” says Annam. “With this show, we want to add more color to the perception of individuals.”
WHAT Mosaic: LGBTQ+ art exhibition
WHEN | WHERE Through June 20, daily (hours variable), Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington
INFO Free; 631-423-7610, cinemaartscentre.org