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A slow return to normal for area museums

National Gallery remains closed, but others have reopened

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Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens reopened last week. (Photo courtesy Hillwood)

The Smithsonian Museums remain closed and the National Gallery of Art recently announced it would not open in time to commemorate its 80th anniversary. But the good news is that with COVID restrictions slowly lifting, some area museums are looking at reopening events while others have already opened their doors .

Below is a smattering of area museums that have reopened. Be sure to check with each museum directly before making plans.

• The National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly reopened on July 24.

• The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Renwick Gallery, The National Museum of American History and the National Museum of the American Indian reopened back in September.

• The National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden reopened last month.

• Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens reopened last week.

• The National Museum of Women in the Arts has also reopened.

• The International Spy Museum reopened in January.

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The Smithsonian National Zoo has reopened following coronavirus closures. (Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Galleries

Artists examine gender identity in D.C. exhibition

Event sponsored by the Blade, Dupont Underground

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'The Veiled in Red' by Waleska Del Sol is one work featured in The Gender Within: The Art of Identity exhibition at Dupont Underground.

Each weekend this June, visitors to Dupont Underground — an arts space built into an abandoned trolley station under Dupont Circle — will find walls lined with artwork ranging from embroidery to watercolors. Together, the pieces make up the Underground’s latest exhibition, “The Gender Within: The Art of Identity,” which unites more than 35 local artists in a conversation on gender identity and the dynamic ways that gendered labels are experienced.

Sianna Joslin, a web developer by day and one of the artists participating in the exhibition, is including a piece entitled “The Inherent Agony of Having A Body” — an embroidery hoop that depicts an anatomical model of a transmasculine individual bearing top surgery scars and patterned red boxers.

The piece juxtaposes “the old ideals of the human body, the male form, with top surgery scars (and) these funny pennant boxers,” they said. “It’s kind of a play on what society has traditionally considered masculine versus these new symbols of masculinity that transmasculine folks are embracing.”

Another artist, Rashad Ali Muhammad, brings to the exhibition a compilation of videos in which colorful, moving backgrounds are transplanted onto the faces of different people — pieces that originally began as NFTs.

This project, entitled “A World Within,” was inspired by the realities of existing in a period of social volatility like the pandemic, and aims to show the “worlds” that exist within each person, Ali Muhammad said.

Left to face the challenges of the pandemic and broader social inequities, “you need to take the time inwardly to think about and process everything that’s going on,” they explained. “You have to go within to understand who you are sometimes.”

Nikki Brooks, whose painting “Blaq Jesus” portrays a Black and androgynous Jesus smoking a cigarette with a nondescript expression, rooted her creative exploration in her experience with societal gender norms.

“For a long time I struggled with my gender expression. I had to live up to how people framed me … putting this femininity on me,” she said. The painting challenges “pressures from people saying that one person has to be one way, or express themselves one way,” and encourages others to “let them live how they feel on the inside.”

Brooks also noted the use of religious imagery was key to her piece. In historical depictions of Jesus, he is often assigned certain racial and gender identity markers according to societal demands, she said. “This Black Jesus in a way defies all those stigmas” tied to the identities depicted by connecting them to a revered religious icon.

The artists all noted that they are excited by the diversity of experiences the Underground’s exhibition has brought together.

“We’re going to see — from all of these different artists — interpretations of what gender means to them, and I just think that’s wonderful,” Joslin said. “I really hope that it expands on that notion of gender for a lot of people.”

Ali Muhammad found the exhibition especially meaningful for openly creating space for queer artists.

“In the history of art, a lot of artists tend to be queer … but people don’t talk about that,” they said. “Focusing specifically on queer art and queer artists (says) we are here, we are represented.”

The exhibition, cosponsored by the Washington Blade and Dupont Underground, can be accessed at 19 Dupont Circle, N.W., each Friday, Saturday and Sunday in June from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry costs $10 per person, or $7 for students, seniors and members of the military.

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Galleries

Not-to-miss exhibits at Baltimore’s Gallery Blue Door 

Works by Brooks, Halvorsen now on display

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See Scott Brooks’s striking works at Gallery Blue Door in Baltimore. (Image courtesy of Gallery Blue Door)

Baltimore’s bustling art scene includes several current exhibits at the gay-owned Gallery Blue Door. 

Striking works by acclaimed artist Scott Brooks are on display now through July 9 in an exhibit titled “Self Contained — Pandemic Era Works.”

“The Work in ‘Self Contained’ was created over the last two years,” Brooks said in a statement. “It has been a challenging time for the world, and for myself personally. As an artist, being in lockdown gave me the gift of time.”

Brooks, a former D.C. resident who is gay, is a figurative artist who has been living and working in Baltimore since 2016. His art borders on the surreal and ranges from portraiture to complex narratives, according to the gallery.

Also currently on display is an exhibit titled “Becoming” by out artist Tracey Halvorsen, which runs until May 14. 

“This latest body of work reflects a composite of subject and abstraction through continued exploration of landscapes, still life, and narrative themes,” according to a statement from the gallery.

Gallery Blue Door should be on your list of places to visit in Charm City. It’s located in a historic row home in Mount Vernon, long the epicenter of LGBTQ life in Baltimore. 

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Have to pee? Check out new John Waters Restrooms

BMA introduces gender-neutral facilities

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Actress Elizabeth Coffey and filmmaker John Waters outside the BMA’s new gender-neutral restrooms. (Blade staff photo)

The Baltimore Museum of Art unveiled its latest addition on Wednesday: the John Waters Restrooms, named for the iconic filmmaker who is a trustee of the museum. 

There were plenty of snickers and jokes about who would be the No. 1 and No. 2 patrons of the new facilities, but beneath the potty humor was an important message about access to the most fundamental spaces in society.

Joining Waters at a BMA event Wednesday to officially dedicate the gender-neutral restrooms was Elizabeth Coffey, a transgender actress and longtime friend and collaborator of Waters’. Coffey noted the importance of access to public spaces to the trans community. Preceding her at the lectern was Christopher Bedford, the Dorothy Wagner Wallis director of the BMA, who noted that adding the gender-neutral restrooms was the right thing to do.

After brief remarks, Coffey and Waters led a group of museum supporters and reporters downstairs to see the new space and Coffey cheekily took the inaugural trip into one of four private stalls. The stalls and adjoining communal washroom were designed by Quinn Evans Architects and feature white tile with bright red tile in the stalls. The idea for naming the restrooms came from Waters when he bequeathed his fine art collection to the BMA, according to a museum statement. 

The John Waters Restrooms will open to the public on Sunday, Dec. 12, in conjunction with the adjacent Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs and Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies. Waters is about to embark on a national tour of spoken-word performances. 

John Waters Restrooms, gay news, Washington Blade
John Waters speaks to a crowd at Wednesday’s dedication event. (Blade staff photo)
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