‘It Do Take Nerve’

The Speed Art Museum’s new exhibition is turning heads and sparking conversations

By Laura Ross

Photos courtesy of the Speed Art Museum

A provocative exhibition at the Speed Art Museum has been turning heads and fostering conversation all summer. The museum plans to amp up that conversation on Aug. 17 at its popular, monthly After Hours event, with a drag show and open conversation with WFPL’s “Strange Fruit” podcast co-hosts Dr. Kaila Story and Jaison Gardner. The event is part of the Dialogues on Gender series at the Speed in conjunction with “Strange Fruit” and the exhibition “Breaking the Mold: Investigating Gender at the Speed Art Museum.”

Story and Gardner will present the lecture “It Do Take Nerve: Drag as a Subversive Tool of Resistance,” along with a multimedia presentation. A discussion and Q&A with the audience will follow. Later, Play Louisville will present a drag show at the Speed as part of After Hours.

The audience will learn about the history of drag as a socio-political tool of resistance throughout the course of modern history –from Kentucky’s own James “Sweet Evening Breeze” Herndon to New York City’s House Ball culture and RuPaul Charles.

Dr. Kaila Story

“We will examine drag as a queer art form that is subversive to mainstream notions of identity, race, culture, gender identity and sexuality,” said Story. “Drag as an art form has always challenged those notions and even ideas of race and culture that have been thought to be innate, natural or biological.”

“The drag queen, the fem queen and the drag king are gender outlaws,” said Gardner. “They are individuals who push and pull at the edges of racialized gender and sexual performance, disrupting ideas that gender and expressions of sexuality are intrinsically tied to the sex we are assigned at birth.”

Gardner added, “Drag also distorts normative ideas about ‘the genders’ and the types of attributes, attitudes, behaviors and performance that are thought to belong to either men or women. It challenges that which is thought to be ‘natural’ or ‘fixed.’”

Story is an associate professor in the departments of women’s and gender studies and Pan-African studies and the Audre Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Louisville. Along with Gardner, she is also a co-creator and co-host of WFPL’s “Strange Fruit: Musings on Politics, Pop Culture & Black Gay Life,” a popular and award-winning weekly podcast focusing on social justice and pop culture.

Gardner is a social justice activist, health educator and community organizer. He is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Louisville and is a current board member of the Louisville Pride Festival.

The drag show at the Speed is a first for the museum. “The response to (our) Dialogues on Gender (series) has been phenomenal. We’ve loved seeing people of all ages actively participate in the discussion and ask thoughtful questions,” said Miranda Lash, curator of contemporary art. “The public can expect a lively conversation that is designed to be educational and engaging. Kaila (Story) and Jaison (Gardner) are experts at making everyone in the audience feel welcome to participate, and the runway show in the Great Hall will be festive.”

The Dialogues on Gender lecture series, which has run monthly through the summer, ties into the Speed’s current exhibition, “Breaking the Mold: Investigating Gender at the Speed Art Museum.”

Jaison Gardner

“Breaking the Mold is designed to facilitate discussion about gender and power,” said Gardner. “It explores representation of gender identity through embodiment, dress, objects and history. To that end, all of the lectures in our series have examined the ways in which particular groups of people navigate issues of gender and sexuality and how the ways in which we see ourselves or are seen by others is influenced by intersecting factors including race, class or social location.”

Story and Gardner’s series of gender discussions have proved popular this summer at the Speed.

“The entire Dialogues on Gender series has been a first-of-its-kind partnership between ‘Strange Fruit’ and the Speed Art Museum, and we both have been involved from its inception in the planning and design of each lecture,” said Story. “The ‘Y’all Better Quiet Down: Trans Advocacy and Safety’ presentation in June featured DJ SYIMONE and Dawn Wilson as guest panelists. ‘Living a Feminist Life’ in July featured Paddy Johnson of (New York’s) Art F City as a guest panelist. August’s ‘It Do Take Nerve’ event will be a great way to advance the conversation.”

Story added that audiences so far have been extremely engaged, with the June event running more than an hour over schedule because of the lively discourse.

“These discussions remain important and timely because, indeed, we are living in precarious times politically, but really, throughout time, no matter who was ‘in charge,’ society has frequently misinterpreted and misunderstood gender, gender identity and sexuality, especially as embodied by people of color,” said Gardner.

“Our society has consciously or subconsciously socialized everyone within it to be sexist, misogynist, transphobic and homophobic,” added Gardner. “These discussions will remain pertinent and timely until we all unlearn and eradicate these beliefs.” VT

Breaking the Mold

Now through Sept. 9

Speed Art Museum

After Hours at the Speed, featuring “It Do Take Nerve: Drag as a Subversive Tool of Resistance”

5 to 10 p.m. Aug. 17

speedmuseum.org/events