YassifiedMixed Media Artworks by James Fowler

A NOVAH Gallery SOLO EXHIBITION of Contemporary Visual Artworks by North Bay/Toronto artist, James Fowler

JOIN US for James’ OPENING – 1pm, Jan. 22, 2022 – 176 Lakeshore Drive, North Bay, ON

Yassified is an ongoing project by Canadian artist James Fowler which looks at various aspects of contemporary culture through a queer lens. It takes its name from a social media term, coined in 2021, which means ‘to apply beautification filters to an image’ and has since been coopted by the queer community to describe interventions of straight cultural artifacts, fashion and practices, using queer aesthetics. To date the exhibition, Yassified, includes two bodies of artwork: ‘Hunty’ and ‘BARCODE.’

Fowler is proud to return to North Bay, his hometown, to present this new work for the first time at NOVAH Gallery. The exhibition runs from January 22 to February 18, 2022.

On the surface both bodies of work seem light, bright, decorative and playful, but the messages underlying these works bring to mind much weightier concerns. By applying queer culture aesthetics, these interventions are meant to subvert and disrupt hetero-normative expectations, particularly for men. As a whole, Yassified seeks out places where toxic masculinity is fostered (sports, business, military, religion), takes up space within these contexts, and asks the question: ‘If we release men from the pervasive and toxic cultural identifiers, objects, behaviours and rules, can we create an opportunity for changing the discourse within that void? The show further questions, what are our roles and responsibilities in interrogating and dismantling the patriarchy.

HUNTY

Hunty is a series of bright orange hunting balaclavas hand embellished with paint and glitter to resemble the make-up of drag queens and pop-cultural icons. They are a reflection on the toxic masculinity entrenched in hunting culture and serve as a challenge to signifiers of masculinity through cultural mapping.

The balaclava has become a symbol within activist cultures, creating safety through anonymity. The institutions that support patriarchal masculinity expect this same anonymity of men by virtue of their uniforms and peer group behavioural codes. By applying individual characteristics to each balaclava and placing them in shadow boxes lined with fabrics associated with both fashion and hunting cultures, the heteronormative masculine standard of individualism is destabilized, creating space for conversations about positive masculinity and its place in gender equality.   

BARCODE

BARCODE is a collection of 70 coloured bandannas, hand embroidered with marketing slogans and taglines from various consumer products and services. They are a cheeky critique of the corporate sponsorship of gay events and the roll that sponsorship has played in the erasure of “sex positive” aspects of gay culture.

Flagging’ has been used since the 1970’s by gay men to signal their (often sexual) penchants and particularities. Coloured hankies were worn in either the left or right back pocket to signal to other gay men the wearer’s wants and intentions. Known as the ‘Hanky Code’ each colour represented a different desire. The hanky code grew to include 60+ colours, various fabrics, and objects. While flagging had faded in popularity by the mid-nineties, the hanky code has enjoyed a recent resurgence through queer art discourse and those interested in preserving queer histories.

As the gay civil rights movement gained traction in North America, corporations owning consumer brands began leveraging Pride events to market to this new untapped market. This support, in the form of sponsorship or participation fees, comes conditionally. Most brands, concerned with their public image, want to only include family friendly versions of gay culture.

Embroidery, often used in queer themed textile and fibre art, is employed to symbolize how brands have attached their identity to gay cultural events. In response, I have subversively selected brand slogans that match each desire according to the hanky code, often with humorous outcomes.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

James Fowler’s practice as a visual artist is well complimented by his curatorial pursuits and community involvement with Toronto’s LGBTQ communities. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film and English from York University, an early career background in photography and has maintained a full time studio practice in Toronto since 2008.

Seeing a need for visual arts programming during Toronto Pride, in 2010 James founded the 10X10 Photography Project, an annual portrait exhibition featuring ten Canadian LGBTQ photographers, and celebrating one hundred queer Canadians who have contributed to the arts. To date he has curated ten 10X10 exhibitions, produced ten photography books, worked with a hundred LGBTQ+ Canadian photographers and collectively captured 1000 portraits of Queer Canadians in the arts.

James co-curated Church Street Murals, an eleven building mural development, working with Toronto City Hall to create a legacy project for Toronto World Pride in 2014.

Fowler has produced several queer content exhibitions and events including: ‘NUIT ROSE’ an annual multi-venue queer art and performance festival in Toronto; ‘Gaybourhood’, a series of painted aerial views of international gay neighbourhoods using colour palettes of boy’s toys and kid’s television shows from the 1970’s; ‘Hunty’, bridging North American hunting and drag queen cultures as part of the Intergenerational Artist residency in 2019; and Queering Space: Investigating LGBTQ+ identities through the use public and private space.

The NOVAH Gallery is an NRCC Art Programming and Presentation Project. For more information on exhibitions, Calls for Submissions and how you can get involved in Gallery events visit: www.thenrcc.com/novahgallery