Graphic by Elisabetta Paiano
Most Hamiltonians associate the weekend-long street festival, Supercrawl, with live entertainment and art installations. Flying above James Street North were giant colourful flags reading “deviate”, “subvert” and “resist” with the word “exist” on the back of each. Attracting vistors from blocks away, Flags asks what it means to exist within the twenty-first century, specifically as a queer person in Hamilton.
Adrienne Crossman is a professor of studio arts at McMaster University, but their journey began after finishing a master’s degree thesis at the University of Windsor. Their thesis project consisted of 15 small felt pennant flags, each a different colour representing queer and trans flags with words like “exist”, “postgender” and “neither/both” across the front.
“I’m subverting the medium of these little pennants that are often used for tourism or celebrating sports and I put words like “failure,” “deviate” or “resist”. That was a larger series . . . the one that said “failure” specifically was like an anti-varsity flag or celebrating this idea of failure or positivity of queerness,” said Crossman.
A year later and Crossman became a full-time professor at McMaster. Although they had previously visited Hamilton and recently moved for work, they had never exhibited any work in the city. They had an idea that would not have been possible without the festival backing their work.
“I’ve just been thinking a lot more about how to have more of an impact with my work. I’ve never done an outdoor installation before and I’ve never made work at this scale…It’s a new piece, new work, but also an evolution. It’s the second iteration of a similar concept. It also functions differently, there’s three flags, they’re much larger and they’re a different shape,” said Crossman.
“Flags” consisted of three different eight by five foot flags hanging from lamp posts. Crossman designed the colours, shapes and lettering, but hit the barrier that they cannot sew. They hired a seamstress to help with the task of putting together the large flags in order to debut in Hamilton for the weekend-long festival.
The queer community in Hamilton has had a turbulent history. Hamilton was home to one of Canada’s most recent bathhouse raids in 2004.
The raid created an uproar within the LGBT community. Questions of safety arose and led to a decline in queer spaces throughout the city. Currently, no designated queer space exists; however, many local businesses are welcoming.
Recent homophobic protests have put members of the Hamilton queer community on edge, leaving many to wonder about safety, a question that seems to be prevalent across many communities across the globe. Crossman hopes that their work continues the conversation on the path to resisting the oppression that faces the LGBT community not just in Hamilton but across the country.
“It’s just the continuation of a conversation. So the text reads “subvert”, “deviate” and “resist” as forms of resisting oppression but on the back where it says resist it more speaks to the fact that existing as a queer person, a visibly queer person or anybody that doesn’t suit the way that people might perceive as normal – just existing itself is a form of resistance which I think can be a very radical sentiment,” said Crossman.
Although three large, brightly coloured flags may look inviting during Supercrawl weekend, they hold deep meaning.
“A lot of my work has a trojan horse approach where you make something that looks fun but can spark or start a dialogue about something that is a little more serious,” said Crossman.
For Crossman and many within the queer community, “Flags” is just the beginning of continuing dialogue against oppression faced daily by Hamiltonians and others around the world. Although Supercrawl is Hamilton’s premiere arts and culture event, they engage with contemporary social issues to ensure they are bringing a new perspective to the city.