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June 13, 2023

New art installation depicts Philly's LGBTQ history through old photos

'AND INTO THE STREETS,' an exhibition by artist Rami George, is on display at Kahn Park in the Gayborhood through Aug. 31

Arts & Culture LGBTQ
Gayborhood Public Art Provided Image/Rami George

'AND INTO THE STREETS,' a public art project on display at Kahn Park in the Gayborhood until Aug. 31, depicts LGBTQ history in Philadelphia using archival footage.

A public art installation on display in the Gayborhood this summer uses archival images to detail the history of the LGBTQ movement in Philadelphia. 

"AND INTO THE STREETS," designed by artist Rami George, uses photographs from the now-defunct LGBTQ publication, Au Courant, which ran from 1982 through 2000. The installation, which is on view at Kahn Park at 11th and Pine streets, threads together underrepresented stories that connect different aspects of queer life in Philadelphia. It is on display through Aug. 31.

Though the project is heavily focused on public demonstrations, many of which were held at or around Kahn Park, it intersperses images of intimate moments and joyful celebrations. The selected images are meant to help the past resonate with the present, and to demonstrate intersections within the LGBTQ community and others in the city. 

To complete the project, George explored the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Many of the photographs they found never were published by Au Courant. 

"Using found images and materials has been a cornerstone in my practice for over a decade," George said in a press release. "I love vernacular photos of everyday life, I love images that were made outside an art context. Instead, these kinds of photos are meant to document our existence, as in 'we were here' or 'this happened.'"

Kahn Park was chosen because it is one of few spaces in the city — and even in the Gayborhood — that historically has been a gathering place for queer Philadelphians. The city's Dyke March starts in the park each year, as do other community events.

The exhibit opened during Pride Month to ensure politics were at the forefront of this year's celebration, George said. Many of the political issues highlighted by the project remain polarizing, including reproductive rights, affordable housing, disability rights and the health and well-being of transgender and nonbinary people. 

Some people depicted in the installation recur throughout the photos. Some of the people in the pictures have died, though many remain activists in the Gayborhood, George said. Some people depicted in the photos remain unidentified. The public is invited to help the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives identify the people in the images. 

"It was beautiful to be in the archives and to feel these resonances to our current moment," George said. "Seeing protests for reproductive rights or connecting activism around HIV/AIDS to the COVID-19 crisis has been enlightening. Of course, they're different, but also at stake is what is shared, and like COVID-19, the AIDS crisis is still ongoing. Surrounding these issues are these beautiful moments of tenderness, love and joy. A lot of the project has been letting the search be the driver of decision-making."

The opening reception for "AND INTO THE STREETS" will be held at Kahn Park on Wednesday, June 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. It initially was to be held Monday night, but it was postponed due to rain. The event, hosted by Mural Arts Philadelphia, will include light food and beverages. T-shirts and posters from local artists also will be on sale.  

There also will be readings by local LGBTQ writers, including David Acosta, Krys Malcolm Kelc, Emma Copley Eisenberg, Adiah Siler and Taylor Townes. They will share work that explores themes from the project like kinship, time, memory and representation. The readings are being done in partnership with Blue Stoop, a Philly-based literary organization.