In my old life I was an archaeologist.
I want to tell you why that matters to me. Still. Always.
Some archaeologists study art, but often it is the art of the everyday: images that appear on walls, pots, and tools. Art that, today, would be classified as craft, utilitarian, or otherwise not ‘fine art.’ Don’t get me wrong - I love me some fine art! I think it can speak in a way that nothing else can, and can be incredibly moving and important. But there’s also something so powerful about making everyday objects beautiful and meaningful in ways that go beyond function.
As an archaeologist, I didn’t study art for art’s sake. Heck, I wasn't even an archaeologist that studied iconography. I studied animal bones, domestication and agriculture, and the way societies interfaced with their environments. I studied how people moved around, and how their surroundings affected their social lives. I studied what people held precious and, more often, what people threw away. I was (and am) interested in the factors that shape culture, and how individuals experience it.
There are many different theories about how ‘culture’ works, and there are so many different questions we can ask. How does it affect the brain? How systemic is it, how individual? And, importantly: how does it change? What are the driving forces behind cultural evolution?
The theory that holds the most interest to me is called ‘practice theory’. Essentially, practice theory says that culture is co-created. It exists outside of the individual, and influences individual action and thought - but it is also that same individual action and thought that creates and carries on the culture.
This theory is powerful because it both acknowledges larger systemic forces and allows for individual action to shape and change those larger systems and paradigms.
We are shaped by culture at the same time as we do the shaping.
This means that although we still have to contend with larger structural oppression, we get to semi-consciously create our own mini cultural pockets. The media we consume and the objects we surround ourselves with do not exist entirely outside of ourselves; they shape how we see the world and our place in it. What we hold dear, what we throw away, what we see and do and touch and feel creates and furthers larger cultural forces. All of this influences our identities, our mental health, and our relationships. And on, and on.
Maybe this is all just a convoluted way of saying “representation matters”.
And as my friend Jeanna says, representation is a practice. It’s ongoing. It’s iterative. It takes work. It matters. It’s a form of freedom.
I’m not just talking about “spreading awareness,” I’m talking about both reflecting and actively nurturing our communities in the material world.
I love drawing and painting, but even more so I love the idea of creating art that can be used as a physical expression of love, friendship, and community. I like making small things that are tangible reminders for all kinds of big things:
- People love you.
- Your choices are not just ok, but freaking awesome.
- Your life is yours.
- There is a network of queers past and present who’ve got your back. Honor that. Use it.
- Your actions matter. Be careful.
- Take your goddamn meds.
The queer community in particular benefits from a shared material culture. We’ve used symbols to communicate and find each other (often in secret) for...well, basically forever, as far as I can tell*. It’s where the name of this business comes from, and it’s part of how I understand my queer heritage.
It's about supporting loving and intentional relationships.
I love that so much of what I make is meant to be exchanged - gift giving is a universal human way of cementing relationships. It’s a way of making sure (and reminding you that!) those relationships exist beyond the present moment into the future, even when you are no longer face-to-face. They ritualize important moments, and express something much deeper about the importance of that relationship.
TLDR: I’m a huge anthro nerd and I think having an influx of conscious, queer, political ephemera in our peripheral vision makes the world a little bit more livable, and just maybe can take our culture one step closer to one that is loving and inclusive.
*requisite reminder that ‘queer’ is also a cultural category, and how we identify and understand ourselves as individuals and as communities has changed. Look, I was a neolithic scholar, I get that there are so many ambiguities in the past, especially when we are talking about identity. Trust me: I know. I still think it’s important to recognize what we do know about our more recent history, and to acknowledge that marginalized and oppressed groups absolutely existed in the past - yes, even around gender and sexuality. In all likelihood, they too found ways to communicate, resist, and survive, even if we don’t always know what they were.