May 31, 2023

AND INTO THE STREETS brings politics back to LGBTQ Pride

by: Jameson Paige

An Interview with the Artist 

Mural Arts’ Curator of Public Practice Jameson Paige sat down with Philadelphia-based artist Rami George to discuss their upcoming public art project AND INTO THE STREETS, a temporary installation running from June through August 2023 at Louis Kahn Park at 11th and Pine Streets in Philadelphia. Representing archival images and materials from the now-defunct LBGTQ news publication, Au Courant (1982–2000), George threads together underrepresented histories that depict a queer cultural memory of Philadelphia life that opens during Pride month. Displays of public and private intimacies, political protests, and joyful celebrations are arranged nonlinearly, opening potential for new resonances to emerge as the images leave the solitude of the archives and gain new life in the streets. The result is a complex portrait that foregrounds not just LGBTQ life but, more importantly, its intersections with many other hopes and struggles for a world built on care and solidarity. 

Jameson Paige (JP): Rami, we have known each other for a while now and I’ve always admired the tenderness and care that’s integral to your artistic practice. Your new project AND INTO THE STREETS represents some of that ethos. It’s been commissioned by Mural Arts in its current shape but also represents years of research you’ve done in the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center. What is this new project diving into?

Rami George (RG): I’ve always felt tethered to queer history and archives. When I was finishing graduate school I worked on a project where I paid attention to the blue historical markers throughout Philly, specifically those marking LGBTQ events, and I was wondering what’s missing and who’s not named? A few years ago I reached out to John Anderies, the director of the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives, and proposed that I spend a lot of time in the archives and see what comes out of it. I knew that I wanted to go in and look for underrepresented voices and people, specifically those of women, lesbians, trans, non binary, disabled, and folks of color.

That project turned into an exhibition called Selections from the Archives, which was shown at the William Way Center earlier this year. I brought physical materials down from the archives into the lobby and I reproduced a whole bunch of material. I found these incredible different collections in the archives that really guided a vision for finding those less represented folks that I know are in the archives. We are everywhere, it can just be harder to find us. And so I was trying to do that work and also hoping it would then allow other people to continue finding and uplifting that representation in their own ways. That’s where AND INTO THE STREETS comes from, it’s a continuation and expansion of that exhibition, but also more focused. With this project, I’m looking specifically at the defunct weekly paper Au Courant (1982–2000) with the same goals of pronouncing what’s underrepresented, and literally bringing the archives out into the streets.

JP: I remember that phrase “And into the Streets!,” came directly from a protest sign you found in the archives. Its resonances feel fitting going into LGBTQ Pride month. This project is a bit different for Mural Arts and marks new efforts the organization is making to work with artists who have not worked in public space before. My new role at Mural Arts is Curator of Public Practice, where I’m focused specifically on engaging the many artists whose practices might not neatly fit into Mural Arts’ portfolio and yet still have ambitious ideas for addressing the public outside of gallery and museum contexts. Your work speaks so specifically to people who are not well-represented in history, and you endeavor toward representation in such poetic ways. I’m glad this is one of the first projects we’re producing in this vein. 

We’ve been thinking critically about the viewing experience for this work, and what being in Louis Kahn Park means. It’s the only public space in the Gayborhood and is the starting point for Dyke March each year. Could you tell viewers about your process for selecting and grouping images, as well as how they’ll encounter them?


Select images from the Exhibition 

  • Rami George, detail of AND INTO THE STREETS. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Rami George, detail of AND INTO THE STREETS. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Rami George, detail of AND INTO THE STREETS. Courtesy of the artist.

RG: While in the archives, I went through the entirety of the Au Courant collection, which mostly consists of loose photos as well as miscellaneous print ephemera. Of course, when you shoot a roll of film, maybe one photo goes into the publication. What happens to all the unpublished images? I’m really interested in everyday photos and mistakes, so in returning to this moment of printed film photography I was looking for these accidents or what’s deemed overflow. In the park, there’s multiple viewing opportunities as the photographic collages are installed on billboard-like structures of various sizes throughout the garden beds. There are times where you can be close, and there are times where it’s viewed from a distance. There’s also an inside the park vs. an outside the park way to look. Having this up during Pride, I’m asking what is a pride celebration? The project is joyful, but also emphasizes protest, activism, and even grief and anger. The street-facing collages intuitively display a range of scenes and emotions with this in mind.

The interior of these large structures have more of a scrapbook feel and many focus on individual portraits. There’s also a lot of signage, language, and moments of abstraction or double exposure. The structures around the trees are smaller, closer to human scale. I’m hoping there’s a slower pace to viewing these that also feels more intimate. 

JP: One thing you mentioned which I want to expand on is the intention to open in June which is Pride Month. The complexity of what constitutes a rounder, fuller pride is interesting and it’s really present in the selection of images you’ve chosen. They really run the gamut of representation, from as you mentioned, protests, parades, intimate spaces, moments of abstraction or more poetic artistic interventions. In sifting through all this material and figuring out what resonates I’m curious about what are some of the moments that maybe surprised you, felt illuminating, or were just incredibly tender. Thinking about how this comes together for the public is exciting.

RG: I love photos 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’. It was beautiful to be in the archives and to feel these resonances to our current moment. Seeing protests for reproductive rights, or to see the connections between activism around HIV/AIDS and the COVID-19 crisis has been enlightening. Of course they’re different, and our world is different, but also at stake is what is shared, and like COVID-19, the AIDS crisis is still ongoing. Surrounding these issues are also these beautiful moments of tenderness, love, and joy. A lot of the project has been letting the search be the driver of decision making. All of these images sit next to each other, and I can look at them and see the archives did much of the work for me. Currently, there’s so much anti-trans rhetoric and so much violence. For me, there’s an opportunity to learn from the archives. I get emotional seeing these queer forebears doing this work, while we continue the fight today. AND INTO THE STREETS is taking those lessons and uplifting them, learning from them to make our own way.

Photo credit for above: Portrait of the artist in the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo by Ryan Collerd, courtesy of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

The project is joyful, but also emphasizes protest, activism, and even grief and anger.

- Rami George

About Jameson Paige 

Jameson Paige is a curator and writer based in Philadelphia. He is interested in contemporary art’s engagement with spatial politics, history, negotiations of identity, and problems of representation. His research looks at these issues primarily through art’s flirtations with queer, transgender, critical race, and affect studies. He has held previous positions as Curatorial Fellow at the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, and as Assistant Curator for the Envisioning Justice Initiative in Chicago. He is currently the Curator of Public Practice at Mural Arts Philadelphia and teaches in the School of Art, Design History and Theory at Parsons School of Design.

Last updated: May 31, 2023

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