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Artist Lecture: Amy Cousins
Amy Cousins’ large-scale sculptures and installations are based on her research into rare protest ephemera, out-of-print feminist newspapers, and first-person accounts of radical queer histories. From the Lesbian Feminist Declaration of 1976 to the Gay Liberation Dances that emerged across the U.S. in the 1970s, Cousins reimagines these remarkable yet poorly documented events and reveals captivating examples of inventiveness in queer protest. Her sculptural reinterpretations are produced with a range of processes and materials: wall hung appliqué textile figures, text made from shag fabric, a ten-foot-tall papier-mâché puppet, and an off-kilter tufted patent leather vinyl vitrine—complete with kinky lavender fur—to name a few.
Cousins’ new artworks, such as the queer dance party she will stage at University Galleries, are inspired by more recent activism, including the LGBTQIA+ activists’ public dance party outside of Vice President Mike Pence’s house, which inspired subsequent guerilla dance parties at the homes of Senator Mitch McConnell and Ivanka Trump, the Texas State Capitol in Austin, and the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia during the 2017 Republican Congressional Retreat. Cousins states that she is moved by the “decidedly queer ingenuity and playfulness in addressing such serious and heavy issues,” believing that “resurfacing and celebrating this history seems paramount to how we shape our contemporary political queer landscape today.”
Cousins’ artwork harks back to craft’s central role throughout the history of protest, from the enormous papier-mâché puppets of the politically radical Bread & Puppet Theater founded in New York City in the early 1960s to the multicolored and often political arpilleras created by groups of Chilean women in response to the 1973 military dictatorship. The phrase You Will Never Have the Comfort of Our Silence Again,spelled out in oversized orange-shag fabric, derives from a banner that activist group DYKETACTICS! used to protest the death of an equal rights amendment at Philadelphia’s City Hall in 1975. Accompanying the banner, activists also carried a giant witch puppet that cackled “I am the lesbian suppressed in every woman, I am the woman in every male crucified on the cross of manhood” while they clashed with riot police resulting in many of the women being badly beaten. This shameful incident is one example of how Cousins’ research transforms sparsely recorded events into unconventional queer monuments.
In conjunction with her exhibition, Cousins will collaborate with Illinois State University’s Normal Editions Workshop to produce a limited edition of prints, of which two impressions will become part of University Galleries’ permanent collection. In 2016, Cousins won the Curator’s Choice Award for Beyond the Norm: An International Juried Print Exhibition, which was organized by N.E.W. to celebrate their 40th anniversary and hosted by University Galleries.
Cousins’ work has been exhibited nationally at venues including Washington Printmaker’s Gallery, Silver Spring, Maryland; Vox Populi, Philadelphia; Moore College of Art, Philadelphia; Visual Arts Center at Boise State University, Idaho; Peephole Cinema, San Francisco; and IS Projects, Fort Lauderdale. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, and a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia. Originally from Houston, Cousins currently lives and works in Philadelphia, where she is also an active member of the experimental animation collective, OOF.
This event is sponsored by the Harold K. Sage Foundation and the Illinois State University Foundation Fund. Programs at University Galleries are sponsored in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency. The artist reception is co-sponsored by Hyatt Place, Bloomington-Normal.