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ART LGBTQ+ installation on display in Chicago Cultural Center
by Emily Reilly

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The final pieces of Sam Kirk's latest art installation are on display in the Chicago Cultural Center until the end of September.

In honor of Pride, Kirk's installation began as a way to pay tribute to individuals of color in the LGBTQ+ community. Beginning in Times Square, the 12 pieces have made their way to Chicago since the start of June at Navy Pier and end at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Kirk said her art comes from a very personal place.

"A lot of my work explores the overlap of culture and identity, so I'm always looking how are LGBTQ+ individuals celebrated or existing within cultural spaces," she said. "And that comes from my background really. I'm biracial and I grew up in a predominantly Latino neighborhood and there's a lot of struggle that came with my life with the role that religion plays not only in the Latino community but also in the African American community. And then you look at a lot of the places where being queer is an issue, you can see how religion plays a role in that."

Because the pandemic changed plans for Pride celebrations, Kirk was determined to make LGBTQ+ community still feel appreciated.

"When COVID-19 happened and the parade was cancelled and basically all these events were cancelled, I was, like, 'What can I do as an artist to still celebrate Pride?'" said Kirk. "Because I do think about those individuals who do live in these communities and these homes where Pride month is their one chance to go out and be completely free and they might not have any other time during the year where it's embraced as much as it is."

After the Cultural Center agreed to showcase Kirk's installation in June, some were concerned if the installation should still be displayed through the Magnificent Mile during the Black Lives Matter protests that began that same week. Kirk made the case to follow through with the installation.

"I brought up specifically incidents that were occurring for Black trans women in particular during this time and how the Black queer community had started to talk about the issues they were facing in addition to Black Lives Matter and how this went into the conversation," said Kirk.

More recently, Kirk also contributed to the Black Trans Lives Matter street mural in Andersonville, painting the first T in "matter."

Kirk's installation is a milestone for the Chicago Cultural Center as well, as it's their first LGBTQ+ display across the city.

"It's the first time they've done anything like that. They've never celebrated anything LGBTQ+ specific in an art installation in that way on the Magnificent Mile," said Kirk. "It brought up some really good conversation about belonging and the importance of feeling welcomed in all parts of the city and not just these designated spaces and why that installation was important to happen downtown and not in Boystown and Andersonville."

As for the art itself, Kirk created colorful images and portraits of individuals who represent the celebration of culture and identity and are inspired from people in real life.

"All of the work was inspired from interviews that I had with individuals from different cultural backgrounds," said Kirk. "I interviewed a little over 20 different people and the pieces that ended up on the banner were actually from studies from more three-dimensional glassworks that I ended up producing for the residency. But I felt that what they conveyed individually was just as powerful as the finished pieces."

One piece in the installation includes a woman wearing a rainbow hijab in the center. Another piece shows detailed imagery with the trans flag in the background.

"If you look at it in detail and you actually take the time to look at everything that's happening in the piece, there's so much narrative and there's so many stories that really represent the people that I interviewed and what their life experience has been in not only the difficulties of being able to express themselves but also the families that they've made within the community as result of being rejected from their own and how they got through. I think it represents the many faces of our community that we don't see represented enough."

Kirk has upcoming work in the LatinxAmerican exhibition in the DePaul Art Museum in 2021 and is currently working on illustrations for a children's book called The Meaning of Pride set to release in 2022.

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