Gallery creates a space for diversity


John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, stated, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

During this year’s Pride at the U, artists of all sexual preferences found a venue for their visions.

“Art is a big part of queer culture,” said Bonnie Owens, 21, a senior at the University of Utah and an intern at the LGBT Resource Center on campus. “It’s a big part of any culture, so I thought it was important that it was included.”

The theme of the 2007 Pride Week held Oct. 15-20 was “Culture with a Q.” Owens was inspired by the theme, and chose to revamp the idea of an art gallery as part of Pride Week.

“In the past it’s never been successful, but I really wanted it to run well this year,” Owens said.

The art show was originally titled “Beautifully Obscene,” but was renamed “The Good Stuff” after some concern over what would be displayed in the gallery located in the U’s student lounge.

“The best thing about the gallery is that it crosses so many different boundaries,” Owens said. “We’ve got staff, faculty, alumni, community members and students all in here.”

Though it was labeled a LGBTQ art gallery, Owens said anyone could submit their art. Artists did not have to describe the subject matter, just the dimensions of their work.

“Something like this is so odd,” Owens said. “It’s so queer to have a gallery designed for queer students and faculty. So it’s very, very liberating for an artist that’s having a hard time finding their niche. It’s a good place to be.”

A variety of art was displayed in the gallery, including photography, drawings, oil, water color, mixed media and pottery.

While some works were more subdued, the gallery did feature a series of nudes painted by a former alumna who lives in Santa Quin County. Owens said the woman found out about the gallery through a culture article in the Salt Lake Tribune and was eager to show her work, not only because the county did not have a gallery that would display the nudes, but also because two of the woman’s children are gay.

The gallery became a canvas of emotion and statement for some.

Orbin Rockford, 27, submitted five pieces from a series of 25 Sharpie and acrylic paint drawings to the gallery. The dark images portrayed, both in color and tone, stood out starkly from their clean, white backgrounds.

The inspiration came from an emotional break-up that happened while Rockford was in college at a Boston art school.

“I was in a relationship that was totally messed up,” Rockford said. “It was my first real relationship with a guy.”

Drawing, Rockford said, is a form of therapy, what he calls “instinct art.”

“It’s a great outlet,” he said. “It’s been about coming to terms with myself.” 

But Rockford said he does not want his artwork to be defined only by his sexuality.

“It’s very much a part of my work, some pieces more than others,” he said.

Aside from putting the show together, Owens also submitted her own series of black and white photographs. Each one featured student leaders and activists from the U’s LGBTQ groups.

“They [Owens’ photographs] were designed to be shown, so they’re a little more apparent,” she said. “They’re something that you can look at them and say, why is this queer, what is going on here.”

The pieces were on display for the week, and the gallery full of artwork was proof of a goal accomplished, according to Owens.

“Pretty much everyone from different identities and cultures submitted something, which is something the resource center has had a hard time with in the past,” Owens said. “A lot of events this year cater to people who are often forgotten in programming like this, so people of color, transgender individuals, women, straight allies especially. So it’s great to see some of their work in this.”

‘Faces from the Land’ depicts powwow dancers and regalia


Painted black lips and a bright yellow jaw sit below a set of dark, piercing eyes. The beautiful array of a feathered headdress, buckskin fringes and a fan of feathers ceases to distract the viewer as the dark eyes pull them directly in. They show a strength and confidence, and they portray a pride in tradition and heritage that is honored at the powwows.

Travis Ike, of the Omaha Tribe, wearing his Native regalia is one of many powwow participants photographed by Ben Marra.

Ben and his wife, Linda Marra, of Seattle, Wash., have followed Native American powwows for 20 years. Their traveling documentary photo exhibit, Faces from the Land, features Ben’s portrait photography and personal statements from each of his subjects.

The Faces from the Land exhibit was at the Main Library in downtown Salt Lake City from Sept. 20 to Nov. 15, 2008. Ann Morris, a librarian there, estimated that about 30 people a day walked through the exhibit, the majority of those being adults.

The Marras attended their first powwow in 1988 when Ben was given an assignment to take a color photograph depicting the theme, “Celebrate Washington State.” Recently returned from photographing people in Nepal, Ben immediately discarded all the played-out Washington icons and came up with the idea of photographing Native Americans from the Northwest.

“At my first powwow, I saw beautiful imagery right here in our country,” Ben said. He wanted to photograph and share it.

After the photo assignment, the Marras continued to attend powwows across the United States and Canada, and the photography grew into a larger project for them.

“We did this on the side for fun, to take off for the weekends, but you keep learning of more powwows and seeing people you know,” Linda said.

The Marras became more dedicated to their photography project when they decided to use the images to strengthen or spark an interest in the Native American community. On their Web site, they write their hopes that the photos can teach people about the importance of tradition and family, and about beliefs associated with powwows, dances and native regalia. 

Due to a lack of education about Native Americans in school, neither of them knew much in the beginning and had no idea what to expect at a powwow.

Linda was surprised at how welcome they were. The Marras made sure to keep their word and treat everyone well so they weren’t seen as “ugly, white people.” Relationships have been very important to their success.

“This whole project has been based on relationships and we’ve been careful to form and nurture those relationships, and honor those promises made,” Linda said.

Their relationships with powwow dancers are also based on cultural respect. For example, if an elder asks individuals to dance, they have to. It is respectful and an honor for the invitation to be given and accepted. Linda and Ben have been asked to dance before and obliged, even though Linda said she is self-conscious and doesn’t dance. It wasn’t a real dance, Ben said. It was more of a two-step while circling around, something that anyone can pick up after a minute.

The Marras used to search for their subjects at the powwows. They would look for someone with a certain presence and a unique way of carrying themselves.

These days, though, powwow dancers seek them out and ask for their photo to be taken. The dancers come between songs and usually only have five or 10 minutes where Ben can create a few photographs.

“We make [the process] fast for them because they are here to be dancing,” Ben said. Sometimes during a shoot, someone will run in and tell the dancer that his song is next. They will run out, regardless of if Ben is done.

Linda meets the dancers before the shoot to take down their name and tribal affiliation. Then Ben tries to make them feel comfortable despite what setting they may be using. Whether it’s a school hallway or a portable trailer, they try to always create privacy so that it is just Ben and the dancer.

The dancer stands in front of the same brown cloth that the Marras have had since the beginning of the project. The lighting is also kept similar. This helps to keep the photos consistent with one another, so that a photo from 10 years go can be placed right alongside a photo from today.

Ben uses a color slide film to get the most vibrant colors. His color portraits are a unique and signature work. Few photographers have such an extensive portfolio of portraits. Ben’s color portraits have a different feel to them, especially when compared to the sepia-toned Native American images made by Edward S. Curtis in the late 1800s and early 1900s, said Morris, the Salt Lake City librarian.

Some of Curtis’ photographs appeared on a television alongside the exhibit. Native Americans have rarely been shown in traditional attire in color. Most of the historical pictures are black and white or sepia, which don’t allow for the full effect of their regalia to be seen.

Ben also photographs the dancing at powwows. He manages to get close up and has a knack for getting great action shots since he is familiar with the music.

“He’s been doing it for so long that he recognizes the dances and knows when they’re up in the air or when the last beat of the song is,” Linda said.

Every dancer who is photographed by Ben receives a copy, which is usually proudly displayed in their homes, Linda said.

The Marras have a book coming out in April 2009 called “Faces from the Land: 20 Years of Powwow Tradition.” The book will feature 150 of the best color portraits over their 20 years of following the powwows. A personal narrative will accompany each of the photos.

Local exhibit promotes acceptance, offers historical perspective

Story and photo by JEFF DUNN

It’s been almost two years since the largest public demonstration in Utah’s history. On April 9, 2006, roughly 43,000 Latinos marched in Salt Lake City, promoting unity in the Hispanic community and petitioning the state for comprehensive immigration reform.

This year, Armando Solorzano is bringing the rally back to life with a photo-documentary titled “Invisible No More: Latinos Dignity March in Utah.” Solorzano says he received more than 4,000 pictures from participants in the demonstration before settling on 700 of the most striking images.

“The reason I did the exhibit was to provide a different aspect to the undocumented immigrants,” Solorzano said. “The whole idea was to portray their feelings, their hopes, their expectations and the love they feel for the United States.”armando-solorzano

The exhibit has been successful so far, according to Solorzano. More than 85,000 people visited when the documentary was first displayed at the city library, and about 8,000 people showed up in February to see the exhibit at Westminster College.

Solorzano and his staff have a goal of 100,000 people viewing the photographs, and with trips to Dixie State, Weber State and the University of Utah scheduled for later this year, that goal seems attainable.

Solorzano, a professor of family and consumer science at the U, said the exhibit helps dispel negative stereotypes about Latinos.

“The whole intention [of the documentary] was to humanize their experience, because the perception is that these people are coming here to violate the law or to engage in criminal acts,” he said. “But that is not true.”

Tony Yapias, the main organizer of the march, donated more than 1,500 photos taken by his wife and son.

“Our purpose was to send a message to the rest of the country that we need immigration reform,” he said. “The march was a huge success. There’s been nothing like it in the history of this state.”

Though the march did not immediately achieve the immigration reform its organizers hoped for, Yapias said the march has promoted change in other ways. For example, since 2006, the state has received a record number of applications for citizenship and hundreds of thousands of Latinos have registered to vote.

“We’re beginning to see the fruits of the march,” he said. “We accomplished a lot more than we ever expected.”

Yapias said the documentary has provided him a window to the past and an opportunity to contextualize the march.

“When you’re doing something, you don’t realize what you’re doing,” he said. “The documentary opened up a new perspective for us to look back and realize what happened.”

Yapias said Solorzano has been an instrumental contributor to Utah’s Latino community.

“Professor Solorzano is one of the unique professors in the state,” he said. “I’m glad to have had an opportunity to work with him.”

Gonzalo Palza, who continues to work with Yapias in promoting immigration reform, helped organize the walk and also participated.

“It was empowering, a great, great moment for Latinos in the state,” he said. “It triggered some concerns from the status quo. It triggered a bunker mentality. For the first time, [the status quo] really felt threatened. The state realized this is an issue that needs to be dealt with and cannot be ignored.”

But Palza also is quick to point out that the demonstration had negative results as well. He feels that the march has limited reform bills from being passed and encouraged anti-immigration legislation. Some have become even more entrenched in their fears and stereotypical views since the rally, he said.

Still, Palza believes the event brought the Latino community together in a powerful way.

“It was a great opportunity for us to display our unity,” he said. “Everybody who participated in the march felt really good.”

Solorzano’s collection of photographs has brought thousands together, as well. He said the media often focus on negative aspects of the Latino community, but he wants to use the exhibit to focus on its contributions and history in the state.

“Our struggles, our contributions, our participation in political or religious areas is not taken into consideration,” he said. “It looks like we don’t have a history, despite the fact that we have been in this place, in Utah, for about 15,000 years. Nobody knows about us.

“The intention of the exhibit was to document, to bring history alive again, and to remind people that we are bringing important components for the history of the state,” he added.

And Solorzano knows plenty about history, among other things. He was born in Ciudad Guzman, Mexico, but has lived in the United States for 32 years. He has an impressive academic resume, holding multiple degrees from several institutions. He said his constant desire to learn has given him motivation in school.

“Part of my way of living is I need to learn something every day,” he said. “I can’t go to bed without knowing something new. The only reason I like to learn is that I like to teach and share with others.”

Solorzano has been learning about other cultures his entire life. His mother is French, his father is Native American and his wife is Italian American.

“The majority of people believe that Mexicans are mainly Spaniards or Mestisos,” he said. “It’s pretty interesting, because my diversity has been at the roots of who I am.”

As for his two children, “they identify themselves as members of the cosmic race. My children are the combination of all races and different nationalities and countries,” he said.

Solorzano said the United States is about 20 years away from the most important change in the country’s history.

“By the year 2035, minorities or people of color will become the majority in the United States,” he said. “In order to come to that transition in a peaceful way, we need to understand each other more. I think that the racism and discrimination that people typically face is based on a lack of knowledge.”

The tenured professor said he works daily with students to promote diversity and, more importantly, acceptance.

“In my classes, I try to make the students more aware of the situation,” he said. “The whole idea is that we can come together and live in peace. Twenty years from now, America will look very, very different.

“By understanding people of a native background, Asian background, or Latino background, we will be able to maintain this society as one of the most exciting places to live in the world.”

It’s an early spring day, and the late afternoon light sifts through the half-drawn blinds hanging in Solorzano’s office window. Most of his colleagues and students are on their way home, having already absorbed a day’s worth of teaching and learning. Not this man. He sits attentively at his computer, still typing, still working, still dreaming.

Staff intern dedicates three years to LGBT Resource Center


As the co-president of the Lesbian Gay Student Union in Spring 2005, Bonnie Owens, a senior in gender studies with a minor in human rights at the University of Utah, wanted to make a difference and pass on the legacy.

“We changed the name from LGSU to Queer Student Union in 2006 because we had amazing support from the administration, people were always talking about it and we were supported throughout the community,” said Owens, 21. The addition of the word “queer” unites with academics and professors using the word in their curriculum, and gives the title more prestige and makes it more inclusive. “The word ‘queer’ is more of a freedom term — powerful, cultural, generational and changes with time,” she said. Altering the name took two votes and a series of discussions.

“For the past three years, we have been the community center for the entire QSU population and now we have incorporated other areas like Uswerve and Queer Students of Color,” she said.

Owens began her journey with the LGBT Resource Center as a volunteer in 2004. Now, she gets paid to be a staff intern. The center included 12 dedicated students and grew to 25 devoted members with meetings ranging from 20 to 50 people this year.

Over the past three years, Owens has taken on more and more responsibilities for an annual event sponsored by the center. Initially, she sat on the Pride Week committee as a member, then as a student chair, and this year as the chair. She said it was the leadership changes, like hiring Cathy Martinez for the director position, and the reorganization of the office that allowed her to take the lead. This year’s variety of events came from conversations and discussions with fellow queer students, faculty, staff and the community.

“The dog show was the most fun to plan and coordinate, and although it rained, we had four pooches,” Owens said. She enjoyed listening to Lisa Diamond, assistant professor of psychology and gender studies, who emphasized the importance of the queer community. She also liked watching the nine contestants who participated in the spelling bee. “We Googled gay words and made up others,” Owens said. “After it was over, the contestants would explain to me how they thought the word they missed was Greek, not Latin.”

Owens said the goal of this year’s Pride Week was “Pride on a budget” — offering a wide variety of events and activities with support from numerous sponsors and the community. If she could go back in time and change anything, it would be scheduling the week-long event before inclement weather sets in and using more posters to advertise the events.

Owens’ next project is a “staff, student and faculty mixer” for students to be able to meet and mingle with fellow queer faculty and staff. “My peers are my role models and LGBTQ students need adults to look up to,” she said. Owens met her role model when she was 16 years old. While writing a report on Judaism in high school, she interviewed a lesbian rabbi whom she found to be very intelligent and compassionate.

Her mother, a previous role model, died while Owens was still in high school. Since there weren’t many photographs left, Owens had a difficult time recalling memories of her mother. It is then that she decided to express her artistic vision through photography. “I like remembering people and I like to remember things,” she said.

Owens said she had a “crappy” camera in high school, so she decided to upgrade to a digital camera when she went to Europe in 2005. She then took a digital photography class at the U in spring 2006 and fell in love with photography once again. This time, she was inspired by a professional photographer, Heather Franck, who became her girlfriend.

She is currently taking a basic photography class through the Department of Communication in which her genre, “violence against queer bodies,” reflects her passion for nontraditional portraiture — taking pictures of people in different situations. “I chose this genre because I first thought about portraying what it meant to be queer, but then I saw violence as a big part of our culture and society,” Owens said. She finds inspiration through people around her and believes everyone is photogenic. “I saw a woman and positioned her in a way to make her strong and vulnerable while empowering her at the same time,” Owens said. “I get satisfaction from looking at a photograph over and over again and knowing that it’s mine.”

For Owens, empowering others and giving rights to individuals means being equal and fair. She believes passage of the employment non-discrimination bill is critical; without it, she said, employers can justify decisions not to hire LGBT employees since they have no legal choices. She thinks people take many things for granted, like not being afraid to be yourself in the workplace.

“The problem is how we take identity and lose the individuality,” Owens said. She respects anyone on the capitol who is out and proudly fighting for equal rights.

“When a bill passes, when a member of the LGBT population dies, when someone looks at me with disapproval, when someone says something — every little thing wears me down. It is a difficult feeling to live with knowing that I don’t deserve it,” she said. Sometimes, she feels overwhelmed, but conversations and dialogue keep her going.

“The important thing to realize is that it will be different in 30 years,” Owens said. She believes people don’t stay oppressed forever and that revolution is coming, as community organizations take the lead and the LGBT population fights back. She hopes people will finally understand that oppression in any form ultimately hurts everyone, thus empowering individuals to work toward social justice.

Owens’ goal is to have her own nonprofit organization that keeps oppressed youth off the streets and helps them pursue higher education. She believes individuals with a college degree have a better understanding of the world around them and go on to vote, become involved in effecting change and instill ideas to their future generations. “Since I am in higher education, my mindset is here and there are so many things I want to do that I told myself to choose one, and this is it,” Owens said.

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