More Wedded Bliss

Brian Jewell is right when he notes in his Bay Windows article, The bliss off, the Peabody Essex Museum “Wedded Bliss” exhibit doesn’t explicitly address same-sex marriage. Nonetheless, it does an exceptional job of including art that both celebrates and critiques this central social institution. One of my favorites is a piece by Robert Boyd called “Cake Cutter,” in which a large knife is wielded to hack apart bride and groom wedding toppers. With the white bride and groom lying lifeless by the wedding cake, viewers are invited to think about all those who are excluded from the happy white wedding images that are so common in our culture. That made me think about what it meant to have been newly invited to the wedding party. What has changed for our community in Massachusetts–and now in California? Here’s a little of what I said at the museum on June 26:

Whether we are conformists or rebels, we cannot escape the importance of marriage to our society.  Thus it should be no surprise that gay men and lesbians have finally forced open that once tightly closed door. Being denied the social legitimacy and material benefits of marriage hurt—it hurt our self-esteem, it subjected us to psychological and sometimes physical violence, it threatened our relationships to partners and children. Marriage is no small matter.  

In Massachusetts, after four years of same-sex marriage, we can see the results of broadening the definition of marriage. Same-sex couples and their children have far more legitimacy as “families,” accepted by their communities (whether neighbors, school teachers, hospital personnel, car mechanics, or city clerks) in ways that gay and lesbian people in other parts of the country can hardly imagine. As our friend Steven Galante explained so eloquently in our book Courting Equality, “When marriage was made legal, it relieved people of their moral struggle with this particular issue. It allowed them to follow their hearts, their best instincts, and embrace our family.”

That embrace has been very important to LGBT families. But it is also important to remember, that as we move from the margin to the center, we can wrap ourselves in the romanticized commercialism of the white wedding industry or we can unpack the contradictions as many of the artists do in the Wedded Bliss exhibit.

Karen Kahn
July 6, 2008 

The bliss off
Brian Jewell
arts writer
Wednesday Jul 2, 2008

Sandy Skoglund’s faintly ominous
Sandy Skoglund’s faintly ominous
“The Wedding” provoked much discussion.   

While enjoying the beautiful Wedded Bliss exhibit at The Peabody Essex Museum, it is hard not to notice that something is missing. A survey of weddings as artistic inspiration, the exhibit gathers together both art inspired by marriage and objects associated with marriage (such as American wedding dresses and Japanese furoshiki). As the Museum’s Education Director, Peggy Fogelman, explained at a panel discussion last week, the exhibition explores courtship and weddings “across cultures, across centuries, and across lifestyles.”Yet same-sex relationships and marriage equality are all but ignored. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot a few gay couples in a video montage of wedding imagery, and a copy of Courting Equality, a chronicle of the journey to the country’s first same-sex marriages, on a table with other books about marriage. The biggest innovation in marriage since at least The Divorce Act of 1857 is given less attention than a handful of contemporary critiques of heterosexual marriage, and a couple of humorous nods to divorce. It’s a strange omission for an exhibit whose breadth reminds viewers that marriage rituals and traditions are constantly evolving. Never mind the fact that the country’s first same-sex civil marriages took place right here in Massachusetts.On June 26, the Peabody Essex addressed this omission with a screening of the film The Gay Marriage Thing and a panel discussion on same-sex marriage. Read the rest of this article.

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