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Celebrating our rainbow community

Artist and activist Shannon Novak. Photo: John Borren.

A collision of colour and shapes spill from the entrance of Tauranga Art Gallery and expand all the way across the floor and up the stairs. 

The bold installation draws you inside, giving you a sense of being in a kaleidoscope. Even the windows have been covered in colour.  

The expansive work is part of the gallery’s new exhibition Mānawatia Takatāpui - Defending Plurality by Shannon Novak.

The gallery’s signature show for 2021 is a celebration of the LGBTQI+ community that aims to create awareness and shine a light on some of the fraught issues experienced by those that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex.

“Over the years I have seen anxiety, depression and suicide manifest in the LGBTQI+ community in many different ways,” says Shannon.

“This has included the loss of close friends to suicide, such as my ex-partner. This ongoing presence of death has driven my desire to better understand why this is happening, and what I can do as an activist and artist to help stop it.”

Originally, Shannon was set to run a solo exhibition in the action space of the gallery, but after conversations with gallery director Stephen Cleland, the show was expanded to encompass most of the building.

Stephen says: “I was really interested in how Shannon had become so socially engaged in the LGBTQI+ community.

“We thought there was this nice opportunity to expand the scope of the show.”

This is Shannon’s first exhibition in Tauranga, and the floor installation is just one part of it. He has also taken on a curator role.

Upstairs is a collection of multi-medium works from Shannon and 10 LGBTQI+ practitioners.

Vogue is a large mural from Mount Maunganui artist Paul Darragh. The piece references the graphic backgrounds he created for international star Rihanna’s music video Rude Boy.

A series of self-portraits from Tongan-born, Wellington-based artist Telly Tuita, and a video of portraits by Samoan artist Tanu Gago from Auckland showcase part of the BIPOC (black/brown, indigenous, people of colour) voices within the LGBTQI+ community.

Stephen says most of Mānawatia Takatāpui - Defending Plurality is celebratory.

“We wanted to keep it reasonably light,” he says. “We have a lot of colour.

“But then there are these moments where we want to touch upon other histories and other concerns and how it’s still a really fraught space for [LGBQTI+] people to be and exist in.”

The exhibition extends out of the gallery, with works around Tauranga. Shannon has pieced together a coloured skylight in Bayfair Shopping Centre, and is also displaying his newest piece, the Fluid Flag, at the gallery and Baycourt. There’s also a collaboration with Paul Darragh at The Incubator Creative Hub and an installation at The Kollective.

The additional interventions and collaborations are part of Shannon’s efforts in the advocacy space.

He founded the Safe Space Alliance, that encourages businesses, organisations and individuals to list a space that welcomes the LGBTQI+ community and does not tolerate violence, bullying or hate speech towards them.

As part of the exhibition Shannon wants locals to get on board with the alliance.

“We welcome and value all spaces regardless of size, location and category or industry, and we list your space in our online directory for people to find,” he says.

The Safe Space alliance has been adopted globally, and Shannon has partnered with more than 250 LGBTQI+ community organisations worldwide. Visit: www.safespacealliance.com

Mānawatia Takatāpui - Defending Plurality is open and runs until October 10.

Need Help? Contact RainbowYOUTH via their drop-in centre in Tauranga or online at: ry.org.nz

For a confidential support line, call: 0800 OUTLine or visit: outline.org.nz

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