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Queer Identity: Lynn Huynh’s ‘Self History’ Installation at CAMH

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By Donalevan Maines
Photo by Paul Hester

Lynn Huynh’s parents don’t know about her “queer identity,” so as Sally Bowles sings in Cabaret, “Don’t tell Mama.” Huynh, who is 16, also didn’t tell her parents that her art installation, “Self History,” which is on exhibit through July 12 at Contemporary Art Museum Houston, is even more “controversial” than they might believe.

“I forgot to mention [to them] that the film being presented at the CAMH is actually the uncensored version,” she says. “I kept it that way after consulting with a few teachers and friends that I dearly trust. My mother apparently didn’t realize the difference at the opening.”

Huynh’s “Self History” at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Paul Hester
Huynh’s “Self History” at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Paul Hester

Huynh’s parents were skittish enough when she showed them a milder version of “Self History,” which is a pièce de résistance among works in CAMH’s Zilkha Gallery that speak directly to the LGBT community in Perspectives 189: From the Margins. The youth exhibition was organized by CAMH’s Teen Council and features works by 48 Houston-area teens that were selected from more than 400 entries.

In her proposal for “Self History,” Huynh wrote that it would involve “a mirror being set up in front of the audience member and video projections of historical conflicts involving marginalization being projected onto the reflection of the audience member. The transparency of the video projection allows the audience member to still see their reflection while absorbing historical knowledge. This invokes a symbolic sense of putting one’s self in history so that no matter the race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any other identifying traits of the audience member, they are still able to see how they can relate to the oppressive side of history and also the more embracing side (the video begins to shift topics from oppression of groups to the more loving side of history, especially in modern times).”

She added that her video would include “footage and sound from historical moments such as Robert F. Kennedy’s announcement of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, Hitler’s speeches, Ferguson protests, police brutality, catcalling, the Stanford prison experiment, and other negative experiences. It will then begin to include gay pride parades, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and more, concluding to a more positive ‘end’ (though the video is played on loop).”
Huyhn, who lives in the Memorial area, is a sophomore at Carnegie Vanguard High School in Montrose. U.S. News & World Report recently named the Advanced Placement magnet school one of the country’s top 10 schools and No. 3 in Texas.

Describing herself, Huyhn said, “I am a 16-year-old female of Asian-American ethnicity and queer identity.”

Her parents, who were in their 30s when they migrated from Asia to the United States, “were concerned there might be negative reactions [to the art work] that would result in me getting hurt. I wasn’t worried about my safety. It’s not like I live in the museum.”

Huynh spent about a month compiling the footage she included in the installation. “I spent the same month asking around, looking for a mirror,” she says. “Finally, I mentioned it to my parents, and they said there was a full-length mirror in my grandfather’s things.”

That mirror was hung horizontally on a wall in the museum, which furnished earphones for patrons to listen to audio from the film clips, which range from a Joan Rivers comedic monologue to a woman in front of a dollar store calling a black man the n-word in front of her child.

Huynh and her mother attended a reception May 1 to celebrate the opening of the exhibit. “It was pretty surprising,” says Huynh. “A lot of Carnegie came out to support me and the other artists.”

“One piece that really stood out was the roses. It was beautiful,” she says, referring to “The 8%,” a hanging mobile in which West University resident Matthew Watowich employed roses, wood, and wire to illustrate the tragedy of teenage suicide. Of the 300 roses in the mobile, 8 percent are real, destined to wilt and die over the span of the exhibit.

“It’s an incredibly emotional piece,” agrees Connor Mizell, 17, a sophomore at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, whose “Homosapiens” is another highlight of the exhibit. Its 40” by 40” canvas of 16 black and white photographs of marginalized Houstonians is heavy with homeless gay men.

From the Margins is the ninth biennial youth art exhibition organized by CAMH’s Teen Council. An open call attracted more than 400 submissions responding to the questions: What does marginalization look like and feel like? Does it have a sound? What does it produce? Can we prevent marginalization? Are its outcomes always negative?

In addition to LGBT themes, several works speak to body image, such as Jasmine Duarte’s photograph of four jean-clad girls, which she titled “Are You Thin Enough.” Other artists tackle the influence of technology on their generation, such as Victor Sarabia’s photograph “Raised by Robots,” depicting two girls sitting outside on the grass ignoring each other in favor of their smart phones.
Sunnie Liu addresses immigration and border issues with her drawing “American Dream Sin Fronteras,” that shows an elderly woman on one side of a high fence holding fresh food, her back turned to shadows on the other side of the fence.
In addition to From the Margins, 10 Episcopal High School students created artworks that were exhibited in May in the museum’s Cullen Education Resource Room, which is adjacent to Zilkha Gallery.

At its entrance was “Femasculine,” a monotype of a multi-colored vase which, upon closer inspection, is actually a necktie in the rainbow colors of the LGBT community. The delicate flower branches that seem to float on the canvas are a more traditionally feminine image.

“The project was between CAMH and my design and advanced design classes,” explains EHS art instructor and studio art coordinator Deborah Brock. “The students discussed and researched the theme of marginalization.”
From the Margins runs this summer in conjunction with Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, which continues through August 2 in CAMH’s Brown Foundation Gallery.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is located at 5216 Montrose Blvd. and is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sunday, noon–6 p.m. And it’s free. Visit camh.org or call 713.284.8250 for details.

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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