Centering the Fringe
The New Museum’s symposium, We Who Feel Differently, investigates difference as an aspect of queer life.
April 27, 2012
We Who Feel Differently is a two-day symposium at the New Museum organized by artists Carlos Motta and Raegan Truax as an exploration of the ways in which difference shapes queer identity.
“The symposium presents an opportunity for us to continue and extend conversations about why and how difference is a profound queer strategy,” says Motta, a native of Bogotá, Columbia who resides in Chelsea. The project, which will be moderated by Ann Pellegrini of NYU’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, is a heady look into the identity politics of being gay and different. It’s a complicated notion, especially when he starts to discuss the ways in which some gays feel they exist outside the gay rights movement. “We perceive the mainstream LGBT movement to have distanced itself from the precepts of the sexual liberation movements of the ’70s in many ways,” says Traux, a Washington state native, who now lives in Red Hook. “[We] think that having a conversation openly about difference—vs. equality—is not only a relevant, but a necessary counter narrative to the contemporary movement’s mission [and] its narrow ideas about what equality means.”
It’s an important conversation—one that people often shy away from for fear of being seen as opposing gay rights—and one the organizers won’t avoid during the symposium. “We Who Feel Differently attempts to reclaim a queer ‘we’ that values difference over sameness,” Motta explains.
An important step for the dialogue, the 33-year-old says, is letting labels be blurry, lines soften. “In normative Western societies we try and categorize people by recognizable markers and [we] read titles—be they gender titles or job titles—onto people—but these categories don’t often represent the multiple ways in which people live their lives and express their sexuality and genders,” he says. And the symposium will reflect that aesthetic. In choosing presenters, Motta and Truax looked specifically for a mix of artists, academics and activists. “We are thinking about performances as lectures and lectures as performance in some cases,” Truax says.
Saturday’s panel will move to a discussion of what queer difference means “in relation to contemporary memory, art and politics,” and the two-day event will close with an informal roundtable discussion moderated by Pellegrini. Asks Motta: “What better way to end the symposium than put everyone at the same table?”
We Who Feel Differently at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 235 Bowery (@ Prince St), May 4 from 4pm–8pm and May 5 from noon–4pm; $8 New Museum members/$12 general admission. Visit NewMuseum.org for more info.