When Pope Francis derogatorily took on the culture of modern gender-reassignment technologies and deemed them a part of a “utopia of the neutral” in a 2017 speech, Denver artist and Cabal Gallery member Mar Williams decided to strike back.
“The pope said a weird thing,” says Williams. “He was talking about trans people generally and warning people about the ‘utopia of the neutral,’ and that sounded so fantastic to me, coming from a figure like the pope, someone so removed from my supportive queer world.
“I could only think, ‘The Vatican says things about trans people?’ It made me realize that in between the extremes, there are real things we can talk about. But from my perspective on the edges of complete radical acceptance, that discussion in between sounded like a crazy utopian novel.”
In response, Williams called on local transgender and non-binary artists to fight back by submitting thematic artworks for a show at Cabal appropriately called Utopia of the Neutral. “I wanted to elevate trans voices,” Williams explains. “You have a lot of people who have a hard time navigating the world because they’re not understood at all. I feel like it’s the responsibility of this gallery to give people without a voice a voice.”
In perfect harmony with that intention, Williams received a disparately diverse selection of work. “Being trans is just too many things to be tidy, and that's reflected in the range of types of works,” the artist notes.
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All the better, Williams adds, to demonstrate how the trans community is no less diverse than the general populace, and that in the long run, Utopia of the Neutral isn’t about asking for permission to be queer. It’s about sharing a slice of trans/non-binary life, as is, and Williams thinks it can also be a fun way to get people talking, unimpeded by thoughts about what is and isn’t normal. Trans people aren’t intrinsically scary or weird, after all — they’re people: “I think it’s the beginning of an empathetic discussion, where we let people see artwork that’s very personal. It might move them to have a better conversation.
“When I talk about my queer happy little friend world, that isn't something that just appeared easily, and it certainly wasn't always like that,” Williams concludes. “People have to fight for each other.” Utopia is part of that fight.
Utopia of the Neutral opens Saturday, January 13, with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. at Cabal Gallery, 1875 South Broadway. The exhibit includes artwork by Frankie Toan, Kenzie Sitterud, Hart Krypilo, K. Bullington, Billie and Mar Williams, with music by Selene Wellington, Bonnie Finley and the Sad Little Queers. Learn more at the Cabal Gallery website or on the Facebook event page.