LGBTQ+ artists challenge metalwork’s macho image in new exhibition

Artists from Birmingham City University’s renowned School of Jewellery are among the contributors to a new exhibition of metalwork this month, inspired by the lives and experiences of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) community.

SCHOOL OF JEWELLERY

BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY

The Queer + Metals exhibition, which opens in Hereford this Friday 25 March is the first show of its kind to focus exclusively on the creations of LGBTQ+ metalwork artists. The free to attend exhibition forms part of the annual Ferrous Festival, a ten-day celebration of the art of blacksmithing, featuring live demonstrations, displays, workshops, talks and tours.

Dauvit Alexander, a Senior Lecturer in Jewellery and Silversmithing at Birmingham City University, is one of the co-creators of Queer + Metals. He developed the idea alongside Deirdre Figueiredo, Curator and Director of Birmingham-based creative charity Craftspace, and Rebekah Frank, a metalsmith and writer located in San Francisco and currently undertaking a digital residency with Craftspace.

All three practitioners identify as LGBTQ+ and their interest in developing a project for makers with a similar sense of self stemmed from a shared passion for the subject area and a desire to challenge stereotypical perceptions of metalwork and blacksmithing.

Dauvit explained:

“Metalwork, in particular blacksmithing, are quite commonly portrayed in popular culture as heterosexual, male-oriented, quite macho, disciplines. But we know there are many artists from across a wide spectrum of sexuality and gender fluidity working creatively in metal so we wanted to provide a space where they could express their experiences through their creations while at the same time subverting traditional ideas of what our craft looks like.”

Rebekah Frank devised an online survey to gather worldwide perspectives on queerness across the expansive field of metalworking and metalsmithing. She was curious about how artists self-define their queerness, what it means to be a queer metal artist, other intersectional ways that they identified and the possibilities for queerness and metal-ness to overlap. The response was phenomenal with over 100 submissions from both UK-based and international metalworkers..

Rebekah made a selection for an Instagram campaign and video interviews and these are represented in the exhibition.

Dauvit and Deirdre selected artists for the exhibition based on previous research and responses to the survey. Dauvit’s own work features in the show along with seven others including two Birmingham City University graduates.

Gilbert Hadden studied design and industry at the University, graduating in 2019, and now works predominantly as a knifemaker. The 26-year-old, who is originally from Rugby but now resident in southern Ireland, has produced a collection of elaborately designed daggers as potent symbols of gender reassignment surgery.

Shanghai-born Fei He, a jewellery and object graduate, combines commercial work for high-end fashion outlets with dress designs for his own performances as a drag artist. Fei’s costumes, incorporating his metalwork, will be on display at the exhibition.

Fei He will also be performing his drag act as part of an event on Saturday 26 March, which also includes a discussion with the Queer + Metals curators, and features films, interviews and reflections from Rebekah Frank’s digital residency at Craftspace.

Dauvit added:

While the Ferrous Festival has been running since 2017, Queer + Metals is in its infancy, but its creators hope to develop and grow the concept, showcasing the work and perspectives of LGBQT+ artists in metals and blacksmithing to a wider audience over time.

“Increasing awareness of an incredibly varied group of makers in metal has been a personal and collective endeavour for us,” said Dauvit. “We want to continue this as a means to affirm, empower and express solidarity between LGBTQ+ creatives, making visible the ways they are shaping, disrupting and contributing to contemporary craft and design practices.”

The Queer + Metals exhibition is taking place in Hereford from Friday 25 to Sunday 3 April as part of the Ferrous Festival 2022.

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