What does it look like to grow up queer in Hamilton?
Art exhibit explores young people’s interpretations of gender and sexuality
One of the first things you’ll see when you walk into Hamilton Artists’ Inc. on James Street North is a large human-shaped sculpture wrapped up in strands of yarn and colourful scarves.
This piece, made mostly from wood, yarn, chicken wire, and rainbow-coloured tissue paper, is much more than the sum of its parts.
It’s a symbol of how a group of young Hamilton artists feel about their gender and sexuality — and it’s the centrepiece of a new exhibit that showcases the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in our community.
The exhibit, called “Growing Up Queer in the Hammer,” was the brainchild of young artists from the RE-create art studio on James Street North. Funded by the Hamilton Community Foundation, RE-create offers a drop-in program three times a week for atrisk and street-involved youth.
The exhibit is the culmination of months of discussions, workshops, and teamwork, said Meghan Schuurman, the studio co-ordinator at RE-create. The exhibition was incredibly collaborative; Hamilton Artists’ Inc. donated the space and provided the youth with artists’ fees, local LGBTQ artists held workshops with the RE-create youth, and the Hamilton Tool Library provided storage and sup-
port throughout the project.
Grey Grant, 23, and Quinn Bergie, 18, both of whom created exhibits for “Growing up Queer in the Hammer,” say their experiences in Hamilton as LGBTQ+ youth have been positive.
“There was always the occasional negative story, but that’s still tied together with how I still found my community and am still happy in my community,” Grant said.
“A lot of my life I kind of saw it as more of a negative thing than a positive thing, just because of who I grew up with and my surroundings. It took me awhile to actually be comfortable with myself and coming out,” said Bergie. “But since then, I’ve pretty much had good experiences outside of family relationships. There are a few issues here and there, but mostly I’ve found it to be pretty positive.”
Grant, who took the lead on creating the main sculpture, says it is representative of the uniqueness of each individual in the LGBTQ+ community while also celebrating shared experiences and similarities. The sculpture is obviously a human figure, but it doesn’t have a discernible gender and is legless to represent those who may have mobility issues.
“It’s supposed to be a central hub,” Grant said. “It’s basically the embodiment of the community — everyone helped decorate it and put it together.”
Emerging from the top of the sculpture are strands of yarn that extend to various points of the room, each one leading to a different piece in the exhibit. Each colour of yarn represents a different artist and leads to their work.
The other pieces in the exhibition range from a zine to sculptures to watercolour to a large-scale vinyl wall decal that depicts two figures sharing an embrace. Some delve into difficult emotions — one piece is a crossstitch reading “I’m Sorry I Suck” and another depicts a male figure looking into the mirror and seeing a tearful female face reflected back — while others offer a more whimsical take on gender identity.
“There’s a real emphasis on the positive aspects of growing up queer,” said Schuurman.
Scattered throughout the exhibit are “Transformason jars” — glass vessels containing objects and ephemera that the young artists used to represents transformations in their lives surrounding gender and sexuality. The jars offer snapshots of each artist’s life and experiences — for example, one jar is filled with buttons and feathers: the buttons representing different people in the community who supported the artist, and the feathers representing supportive organizations.
“There was a really nice metaphor around bugs and chrysalises and butterflies and becoming and figuring out who you are and gender identity journeys,” said Schuurman.
Artist Grey Grant with a sculpture that’s “the embodiment of the community — everyone helped decorate it and put it together.”
Artist Quinn Bergie, 18, from the exhibit “Growing up Queer in the Hammer.”
“Chunky Yet Funky,” by Erin Nolan.
“No 1 Lives There,” by Tanner Ward.
“Mirror, Mirror,” by Taylor Violet Ross.
“Blindness,” by Tanner Ward.
“Skating,” by Erin Nolan.
“My Lips Are the Colour of My Inner Affliction,” by Taylor Violet Ross.