Over the summer, painter Jacqueline Gopie revisited Hawaii for the first time since the Army stationed her there 30 years ago, and noticed something that, back then, might have gotten her court-martialed: a T-shirt, worn by a servicewoman, that read, "I'm not a lesbian, but my girlfriend is."
"I would not have even said the word 'lesbian' out loud, let alone put it on a T-shirt," the Coral Gables artist says. "Being gay wasn't even a stigma. It was unheard of, but it was a very open secret. Let's just say there were a lot of gay bars in Waikiki. 'Just be good at your job and don't be too blatant about it.'"
Long before Don't Ask, Don't Tell and its eventual repeal, Gopie, now a retired Army master sergeant, was closeted on the big island. The encounter inspired a self-portrait she completed this week, "Big Island, 1983." The painting is a neon-tinted throwback to a more-inhibited youth, saturated with gleaming reds and electric blues. In it, Gopie wears sunglasses, fatigues and an exuberant smile, and flashes the peace sign from a Jeep. The work is part of the exhibition "Which Way Out — Personal Thoughts Made Public" at Studio 18 in the Pines.
Exhibit curator Jill Slaughter says the seven participating artists built mixed-media installations interpreting their struggle over keeping sexual orientation and other information private. The show's centerpiece, in Studio 18's lobby, is a 6-foot-tall Plexiglas "Secret House" from Miami's Lori Nozick, into which visitors can throw scraps of papers containing their innermost secrets. The house is transparent, Slaughter says, so patrons dropping by over the coming weeks will notice "the secrets piling up inside."
"Even though people in the LGBT community are making more decisions to come out, other people have major secrets, as well. It's a struggle we all share," Slaughter says. "We can choose to keep our secrets hidden and isolated, but they bottle up and turn harmful."
Adjacent to Nozick's house is Randy Burman's "Discrimination Seating," an installation of gray folding chairs surrounding a chair covered in multicolored crochet fabric and barricaded within a barbed-wire fence. Around the corner is Donna Haynes' sculpture "13 Looking at 31 Looking at 13," a hollow dress mannequin adorned with leaves and flowers. The sculpture will accompany two drawings of Haynes and her 13-year-old niece standing in profile. Visitors can peer inside the mannequin to view childhood keepsakes and private messages, such as "Will men be appalled when they see my breasts?" and "I don't understand boys."
"I wanted to show the dialogue between me at 13 and my present-day self," says Haynes, of Fort Lauderdale. "Like, stuff about my period and why am I scared of boys, and what the hell is happening to me? All of those painful insecurities that I kept hidden."
Which Way Out — Personal Thoughts Made Public
When: Through April 3
Where: Studio 18 in the Pines, 1101 Poinciana Drive, Pembroke Pines
Contact: 954-450-6947 or PPines.com/artsforcommunityengagement