THEY by Martin Wannam
In this work, I began to address Catholic imagery and hate crimes in the area of Central America and the Caribbean, where religion is one of the main reasons people discriminate against, harm, and murder members of the queer community. One of the most important demographic dynamics to understand this phenomenon is the growth and influence of evangelical churches and other religious groups on the politics and institutions of the countries of the region. Guatemala has an evangelical population of 41%, the highest in Central America, followed in its order by Honduras (39%), Nicaragua (32%), El Sal- vador (28%), Costa Rica (25%) and Panama (24%)
One of my interests is in the deconstruction of Catholic imagery and concepts, and in their re- construction through queerness. Choosing the term queerness is intentional because the word is broad, and because it gives presence and power to something that Catholicism specifically refers to as not normal. Rather than normalize queerness, I want to highlight in a positive light what makes the community unique, and in doing so to overpower a heternomative system. In my se- cond interest, I conduct research into specific instances of hate crimes, and then make pieces in which I reconstruct gestures that took place during each crime—first, to make memories political and second, to bring attention to lost voices.
In both approaches, deconstruction of religion and hate crimes, I use signs, symbols, gestures, objects and imagery that are specifically Catholic to create potential discomfort through the os- tensibly disrespectful way I am using them. All of this was created with the intention to protest the way the LGTBQI+ community is vulnerable to “be victims in different ways of violence, that ranges from subtle ways of invisibility and lack of attention up to sexual aggression and death.”
As I worked with these symbolic objects, I began to increasingly question their power. I started to create my own narrative by “queering” the objects, altering their original meanings, making it a campy satire about what objects would look like in a different reality. I critique the lack of acceptan- ce from conservative society and heightened violence of repress culture by viewing anything to do with the community as “unnatural” (and acknowledging everything “natural” to be heterosexual). I started painting crosses or sculptures pink and adding shiny and artificial materials such as glitter, condoms or fabric to interfere with a social construct of color and interpretation.
I look at each case individually, and then I impose gestures to Catholic objects on photography paper by breaking, burning, destroying or painting them, either before capturing or after printing the image. In each, I am referring to details from a specific act of violence that was made against queer people, leading to their death. I do not intend to respect these “precious objects,” but rather to reverse the roles, to bring a sense of political disturbance. In most of these hate crime cases, the perpetrator enjoys immunity and the victim’s voice is lost.
I capture images, most of the time in industrial places, to reflect the way victims bodies are dispo- sed, which is in contrast to how manufactured religious sculptures -“precious objects”- are treated and idolized. I utilize a white, clean, generic space to emphasize that all this crime happened in a system that wants everything to be “heterosexual”. Each image that I create is presented with the name, date, and place where the crime was commited, to create a tension between the image and information for the viewer. I want this work to be direct, to speak to the corrupted system of fear and impunity that Latino Americans suffer.
Martin Wannam lives and works in Albuquerque, NM.
To view more of Martin’s work, please visit his website.