‘Opening the Closet’

Carpentry Exhibit Shines Light On LGBTQ Matters

Story by Miranda McDonald

Photos by Andrea Hutchinson

Art can entice, inspire, captivate and even disturb us. Across the globe, it has the power to transcend time and space and unify people of all backgrounds. Locally, it is the medium one carpenter is utilizing to engage people in a much larger political and social conversation surrounding LGBTQ rights.

Starting a Conversation

Sara von Roenn – a member of the LGBTQ community and now a local artist – spent three months creating an art installation that will debut at the Louisville Pride Festival this week. Her piece, titled “Opening the Closet,” is an interactive, freestanding closet that she describes as a personal love letter to her community. And this love letter has a lot to say.

“With social media being the main vehicle of conversation, I think we are starting to lack a lot of empathy in our interactions,” states von Roenn. “I want to inject some empathy back into the conversation. With this installation, I created an actual space that allows people to gather and physically be part of someone else’s world.”

The piece not only engages the sense of sight with rich symbolism, but it also demands those viewing it to physically sit and listen to firsthand accounts of personal hardships faced by individuals who are LGBTQ. The artist accomplishes this by playing interviews she collected over a seven-year span on speakers that are built into the shelves. These interviews will also be used in a documentary von Roenn plans to film in the coming years.

“There are so many stories not being told by past generations because they carried around so much fear,” she explains. “(For example), I spoke to someone who underwent electroshock therapy at 14 years old. I just feel it is my responsibility to share this history, our history, with the entire community.”

The artist strives to inform with the creation of “Opening the Closet,” which includes several judicial documents on display within her work. She also shares other pieces of LGBTQ history through symbolic themes housed in each closet drawer. The one that evoked the most emotion from von Roenn while creating it is dedicated to exhibiting the names and photos of transgender people who were murdered last year. 

“In 2017, there were over 25 transgender murders in the United States, and these crimes were simply horrific,” says von Roenn. “I wanted that to really be acknowledged.”

One Community

The artist is inviting members of the LGBTQ community to participate in the completion of the installation. For those who are willing to share their greatest fears, there will be small baskets of permanent markers sitting next to the closet so visitors can write those fears on its wooden frame. She sees the hardships faced by every individual as a shared one and hopes her work will convey that in a manner that helps unify her community.

“I want us to unite,” von Roenn says. “I want us to pay attention to ourselves and to each other. I hope everyone who sees this installation will know that they are not alone in their struggle.” VT

“Opening the Closet” by Sara von Roenn

June 15-16

Waterfront Park

Contact: sara@bardstown.com