Hannah Turpin, a curatorial assistant for contemporary art and photography at Carnegie Museum of Art, noticed a lack of art exploring the queer identity in the Pittsburgh arts community. So, when she decided to apply to Prospectus, a new curatorial program by Brew House Association in the South Side that aims to help curators develop their curatorial skills and vision, she noticed that the program’s focus on social issues was a perfect way to create her own show dedicated to filling that need.
“I think, to me, this is kind of an untapped area of the art community and something new to be aware of and to talk about and get support from,” she says.
Turpin’s curatorial work as part of Prospectus — “The Self, Realized: Queering the Art of Self-Portraiture,” runs from Jan. 10 to Feb. 9. Prospectus then continues with “This is Not Romantic,” curated by Bishop-Root, which begins Feb. 21 through March 23.
Prospectus is modeled after Distillery, a long-running program at Brew House Association that provides artists with mentors and opportunities for professional development. After seeing the success of Distillery, Brew House Association decided to develop a program that would provide similar opportunities for curators, according to Natalie Sweet, program director at Brew House Association.
Sweet said the judging panel — consisting of three local artists and herself as a moderator — asked applicants to submit exhibitions that would focus on social issues and include local artists. Other submission criteria included a curatorial statement, a title for their show and how this program would help their careers.
“[We] wanted to see somebody that might have this opportunity as a stepping stone and then be able to use it to curate future exhibitions and continue to contribute to the local community through curating additional shows,” Sweet says. “We felt like that was a really strong possibility for these candidates.”
After being notified of their selection in October, Turpin and Bishop-Root began the six-week intensive program, which included weekly meetings with local curators and experts in the field. They also received financial support to present their one-month exhibitions in a 2,700 square foot gallery space.
Turpin’s “The Self, Realized: Queering the Art of Self-Portraiture” features 14 LGBTQ artists who embrace self-portraiture as a way of self-actualization. The exhibition features mediums like sculpture, video and installation to present the artists’ identities as “multidimensional, multilayered, and unique,” according to a press release of the event.
Turpin, who identifies as queer, says her exhibition gives artists the power to use their practice as way of depicting themselves and defining their queerness, especially given the rise of more LGBTQ+ voices — and stereotypes — in media today.
Self-portraiture, she says, allows artists to explore the complexity and multiplicity behind the queer identity.
“An identity can’t be contained or understood within one or two boxes,” she says.
Bishop-Root’s “This is Not Romantic” highlights the work of three artists — Tyrone Brown,
Ruthie Stringer and Regis Welsh — whose lives intersected at the Braddock Carnegie Library. The exhibition uses photography, sound and multimedia works to explore physical, social and metaphorical landscapes.
Bishop-Root’s exhibition is built off of an ongoing friendship between Stringer — who works in the circulation desk at the library — and Brown and Welsh, who are patrons and frequent participants in library programs. According to Bishop-Root, Brown and Welsh would ask Stringer for books catered to their interests. Eventually, a more than five-year friendship developed between the three.
Bishop-Root says this interaction is one of the many examples of the collaboration that happens naturally within the library.
“I would say I didn’t find these people. They existed within the structure of the library,” she says.
Despite the difference in programming, Bishop-Root says there’s a throughline between her and Turpin’s exhibitions: that the artists are in control of how they depict their being and existence.
“I think that that’s really important that there are spaces in Pittsburgh where people have space to self-define how they’re seen and how they live. And so I do feel like that there’s kind of this consistent thinking around like, ‘what does it mean to have agency in how we construct how we’re viewed?’” she said.