The Walters Art Museum is taking an in-depth look at queer history with the performance of “Queer Curiosity,” Thursday, September 27th, from 7 to 8 pm. Inspired by works in the Walters’ collection of rare books and manuscripts, Baltimore artist Alexander D’Agostino presents a performance blending folk magic, art, and queer history that is part séance and part dance. This interactive work presents a newly created manuscript of queer history and methods, and explores artifacts, history, and collective memory. Baltimore OUTloud recently sat down with D’Agostino, as well as Alexander Jarman, who helps create contemporary art initiatives at the Walters, and curator Dr. Lynley Anne Herbert to discuss the upcoming performance.

“From the institutional side,” began Jarman. “I think audiences will come to see a performance in the sculpture court that will involve dance, will involve séance, and there’s movement. For me, what’s also exciting, is people will also have a chance to get at these parts of queer history that’s in our collection that really just haven’t been discussed that much. So, Alexander has been able, by working with our curator Lynley [Anne Herbert], to tease out these wonderful queer histories that have been hidden in plain sight within our collection. [Audiences] will have a little bit of information when you come in that we’ll hand you that outlines what the genesis of this project was within our collection and what you’ll end up seeing Alexander presenting that evening.”

Performance artist, D’Agostino, added the inspiration behind his performance, as well as what specific elements he was adding into it. “It will be very much a séance. It started with my love for the Chamber of Wonders [located in the Walters]. I was thinking about how you tell so many stories when you look at objects and this idea of mediumship and intuition. With queerness there’s all these sort of invisible kind-of-whispers and suggestions of same-sex love or just how we perceive gender differently. It just made me think of the idea of a performance where those topics are being talked about. So, I like the idea of invoking the queer spirits and the deities that have queerness or sexual liberation in the collection with this idea of sprit intervention to ask the spirits to bless the LGBTQ community and to bring a sense of peace in the chaotic administration that we’re all experiencing.”

D’Agostino continued, “There’s going to be a traditional invocation for strength from a book called Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture and that’s just invoking different deities to help queer people find their power. And then I’ll be referencing and asking spirits of the departed to watch over and bless us. Viewers will also be invited to offer blessings in the way that you may go to a shrine with a note or prayer for someone. We will also be go-go dancing to ‘please the gods’ because you have to have a shiny object for the spirits; so we’ll be the shining object along with a queer spell book that I’m making. That’s where this rare manuscript collection came into play. I’ve been studying old magical books that are in the Walters collection as inspiration.”

D’Agostino and Jarman both discussed that the use of the Walters Art Gallery’s sculpture court provides the perfect environment for this performance to take place within the cohesion of the dance and movement. “We’ve done performance art pieces on and off for the last ten years, but I think this is, to my knowledge the first time that we’ve explicitly said we want to deal with some aspect of queer art history through performance art. When Alexander started this process, he was looking at objects in the Chamber of Wonders, and then through the evolution of this idea we ended up getting interested in manuscripts.” Jarman added that it was through the hard work and research of curator Herbert, that a wealth of resources from within the Walters manuscript collection was unearthed.

Herbert discussed that due to the age of many of the manuscripts (some dating back to the 14th century) that it would be difficult to have the manuscripts that inspired much of D’Agostino’s work on display that evening. However, she did add that many of the pieces are digitized or are in the process of being digitized for the public.

The free event is expected to draw a large, enthusiastic crowd of art lovers, who are looking for something fresh and different, while at the same time honoring queer history from throughout the ages. The Walters Art Museum will provide the perfect venue in which to get in touch with one’s inner spirit. Laughing, D’Agonstino added, “If I could be possessed by a gay spirit that, that would be cool!”

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One of the first known depictions of a witch riding a broom –Alexander D’Agostino leverages oddities in the Walters Art Museum collection for an unusual slice of history and culture, September 27th

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Frankie Kujawa
Frankie Kujawa
Since 2011, arts writer Frankie Kujawa has covered a wide scope of entertainment stories and celebrity interviews. From the late Carrie Fisher and LGBTQ icon George Takei to comedians Lily Tomlin and Kathy Griffin to performer Idina Menzel, Kujawa’s candid interview ability brings readers past the byline and into the heart of the story. His unbiased previews of Baltimore-Washington’s theatre scene have allowed readers an inside glimpse of today’s most popular local and national performances. A Baltimore-native, Kujawa is proud to call Charm City his home.
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