A new exhibition that celebrates LGBTQI communities and culture has opened at the UNSW Galleries in Sydney. The exhibition titled, Friendship As A Way Of Life has been curated by José Da Silva and Kelly Doley and will be on until November 21. A COVID-19 innovation is that you can take a virtual 3D tour of the exhibition from any part of the world.

Nostalgia permeates the collection of works by 20 Australian and international artists, as it weaves together themes of sex, intimacy, kinship and most importantly friendship.

“I think there’s a lot of nostalgia in the show, and I think I couldn’t help but be perhaps a little nostalgic for people, places and things that are no longer with us,” Da Silva told Star Observer. “It is asking people to think about partnerships, it’s asking people to think about how we collaborate with each other and how we’re visible. It celebrates the sex that we have, the intimacy that we have and the knowledge that we share throughout generations.”

Da Silva, UNSW Galleries Director, reveals that he had had the idea for the show for a while, but it took over 18 months to put it together. The original idea was a response to Australia’s marriage equality vote and to find “forms of care, acceptance and queer kinship” that LGBTQI communities have established in structures outside marriage and biological family. The turning point for Da Silva was discovering Macon Reed’s Eulogy For The Dyke Bar installation in San Francisco.

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 Reed’s installation recreates a 70s lesbian bar and has been restaged in Sydney and forms the heart of the show.

“It is essentially a whole installation that you can walk into, that mimics the interiors of a bar and acknowledges the fact that lesbian and dyke bars don’t really exist anymore. The interesting thing about this artwork is that its primary function is not only to be an installation to experience but also become a site for community participation,” says Da Silva. There are plans for the space to function as a real bar, hold events, performances and talks.

The bar from another era that the artist wants young people to experience also ties in with Da Silva’s aim of inter-generational experience sharing for the exhibition. “I’m always looking for ways to  create a membrane between history and the experiences of people that have come before, people from different cultural and social backgrounds. So, we can begin to learn from each other and we can begin to understand a little more about each other’s experiences.”

According to Da Silva the exhibition is structured around three ideas: public relations (the way that communities express their private lives in public space); living arrangements (spaces and the approaches to living with chosen families) and intergenerational kinship (learning sharing and supporting across generations).

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 In the first category are works like those of Melbourne artist Nikos Pantazopoulos who has been documenting beats and sex-on-premises locations in Sydney and Melbourne. “Some of those are particularly interesting especially because the whole nature of public space is changing – bars are closing, sex-on-premises venues are closing,” Da Silva shares.

The second category has works of Australian photographer Helen Grace revisiting the very early days in the 1970s of Amazon Acres, the radical, female-only community in New South Wales with its famous motto “no men, no meat, no machines.”

The third category includes works of Ellis Sutherland, a Sydney designer who looks at the design and typography of lesbian erotic magazine, Wicked Women. This category also features the poignant Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt Project. “What’s very particular about this work is that it’s not for an individual person but for a whole community. The quilt was made collaboratively by the leather pride community in the early 90 and is filled with over 100 names of individuals,” Da Silva says.

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 Then there are works that make a case for queer kinship like Friendship Is Romance of Indian American artist and performer ALOK.

“It is this fantastic, very straightforward text, where he proposes that platonic connections and the deep sustaining relationships that we have with our friends and our chosen families are equally, if not more important,” says Da Silva.

The exhibition Friendship As A Way Of Life is open at the UNSW Galleries till November 21, 2020.

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