Invisible Identities

Kirkhof Center Wall Gallery, Allendale Campus
June 4, 2021 - September 24, 2021

Eberhard Center Wall Gallery, GVSU Pew Campus
March 18, 2022 - June 24, 2022

Queer artists easily lose their identities by our tendency to order and label artwork into neatly defined classifications. They are defined by their queerness and are forced to exist within narrow boundaries to become successful. Artists that create outside these set parameters of “queer art” struggle to maintain their identity. When they don’t speak directly about their lived queer experience, they are relegated to straight and cisgender, having their identity erased for the benefit of a heteronormative audience. It’s with this audience in mind that collectors and curators seek out artists showcasing only their queerness. At best these efforts are reductive and nearsighted; at worst, performative lip service in a power structure that remains pervasively cis, straight, white, and male.

This incredibly filtered representation leads to larger, more pervasive issues of isolation and self-exclusion for the queer community. When the only examples of queerness are boiled down, one-dimensional personifications of pain and otherness, it creates a very slim definition of what queerness should look like. Queer individuals whose experiences differ from that specified presentation can feel invalidated, leading them to deny an intrinsic part of their identity. That denial of self can cause detrimental harm to their well-being.

Invisible Identities showcases work by queer artists from the GVSU Collection and responses from an open call for queer students to write about their experiences. The exhibit strives to view these artists as multi-dimensional creators, affording them the same opportunity as their straight/cis counterparts. Each piece was selected with the understanding that queer artists are more than their queerness. Rather they are people with a wide scope of interests and struggles, living as fully realized individuals.

Invisible Identities exhibition in the Kirkhof Center

Kirkhof Center Wall Gallery, GVSU Allendale Campus, displaying the exhibition Invisible Identities

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A note from the curator...

I want to acknowledge that the term “queer” has a complicated history with our community. In the past it was used against us as a slur for not fitting into the cis/heterosexual “norm.” It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that it started being reclaimed as a means of self-identification. More recently it has been embraced as an alternative to the LGBTQIA+ acronym as a more inclusive way to refer to our community as a whole. I choose to use this term specifically for that reason, but I also understand if, as a member of the community, the terminology may bring you discomfort. That is valid and I sincerely apologize for any offense I’ve caused.

 – Katie Pershon

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A quick-reference guide to the exhibition themes as well as discussion prompts for educators to incorporate into their teaching.

A list of books, articles, and other media related to the exhibition available from the GVSU Libraries in a variety of formats including print and digital.

person typing on laptop with essay over head

GVSU students are invited to submit their thoughts on an artwork from the GVSU Collection that speaks to their sexual and/or gender identity in a 150-250 word written statement.

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Click any image below to view it and additional information in the Art Collection database. 

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Matthew Rettinger
Breath Of Sands No. 4
Print of charcoal drawing with gold paint
8" x 20"

Grace Carpenter
"Wanna Dig?"
Digital illustration print
21" x 15"

Elaine Dalcher
Surviving Cancer: Jan. 20, 2000: Home In Grand Rapids. It's Not Easy.
Oil on wood
15.25" x 22"

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Rachel Britton
Flow Art - Hoop
Archival inkjet print
16.25" x 20.25"

Cathy Marashi
I am Grand Valley
Acrylic on canvas
24" x 30"

Emily Hahn
Though I Picked The Thorny Path Myself
Graphite on paper
14.25" x 11.5"

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GVSU Student Responses

GVSU students were invited to submit their thoughts on an artwork from the GVSU Collection that speaks to their sexual and/or gender identity. Below are two selected responses.

This is an ongoing project; students are invited to submit their thoughts on an artwork from the GVSU Collection that speaks to their sexual and/or gender identity in a 150-250 word written statement. A pre-curated list of artwork is available and can be viewed online in the Art Collection database. Submissions may be published on the Student Perspectives on the Art Collection blog.




four leaves becoming more solid from left to right

Anneke van Santen
2002.0117.1, GVSU Collection

“The work that spoke to my identity within the LGBTQ+ community the most was an untitled piece by Anneke Van Santen. This reminded me a lot of my journey of self-discovery as someone who identifies as gay. The first leaf is myself not feeling quite whole yet because I haven’t fully embraced my sexuality. Each stage of the leaf becoming more whole is my journey through that discovery and allowing who I love to be visible to others. Thus, filling in the parts that made me feel empty and made me feel like I wasn’t truly me. This piece is a beautiful image that I feel I can relate past experiences to and am glad to have found it.”

-Eloi Lantiegne, class of 2023




many yellow ducklings surrounding two white adult ducks

Artist Unknown
Acrylic on paper
Gift of President Emeritus Arend D. Lubbers

“I found that this piece spoke to me personally because it reminds me of what inspired my chosen career path. Growing up is confusing; especially so if you don’t fit in, or are ‘weird’ and ‘different’ in the eyes of your peers. I remember years of wishing for someone like me to talk to and look up to, to help me feel normal, and like I had a place I could belong. I decided to pursue a career in education to become the adult I had wanted to meet, for a new generation of kids like me. I hope for the future to have more educators and mentors like me as well, unlike this work; there are only two ducks for a crowd of ducklings. The AIDS pandemic was a huge loss for the queer community, resulting in an entire generation of missing queer folks. A generation of queer youth floundered in adolescence without role models in their schools or in the media they watched. I have hope for coming generations to not face a similar loss in guidance and mentorship as mine did.” 

-Autumn Flachs, class of 2023

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March 18, 2022 - June 24, 2022

Eberhard Center Wall Gallery
L.V. Eberhard Center, GVSU Pew Campus
301 Fulton St W
Grand Rapids, MI 49504

For directions and parking information visit


For special accommodation, please call:
(616) 331-3638

For exhibition details and media inquires, please email:
Joel Zwart, Curator of Exhibitions
[email protected]

For learning and engagement opportunities, please email [email protected]

Page last modified February 13, 2023