Pueblo artist Sally Lincoln said this to a friend about her new installation: "It's about Ecuadorian cross-dressers."
"Seriously?" replied the friend.
In the United States, if we think of gender-bending, we tend to associate it with the various gender roles that have become part of our national dialogue. We rarely think of it in terms of history, and we definitely don't think of it in terms of hugely oversized balloon boobs and butts, handmade masks, effigies and drunken debauchery.
Lincoln thinks about all that, though, and explores it in Sex on the Outside, her new show at the Kadoya Gallery in Pueblo. The show explores gender-bending, or accepting roles that aren't defined by sex organs, and sacred relationships through the lens of the little-known Happy Widow Festival, celebrated in Ecuador with a broad array of local variations.
Lincoln resides in Pueblo but spends a lot of time in Ecuador, and one year was there for New Year's — when she found men dressed as the Happy Widow. "There were a lot of them," she remembers, "and they had balloons for bosoms and butts. They had effigies, with name-tags and printed lists of crimes pinned onto them. ... In the evening there was drinking, and then all the effigies were thrown on the fire."
Intrigued, she dug up some information. "In the Middle Ages, the day was a festival of inversion, involving role reversal," she says. "The Spanish brought this over with them, and the indigenous people made it their own. ... The men represent wives, and the effigies are themselves, the husbands and men. Throwing the husbands on the fire makes the widows happy."
Why? Sally says it may be because the list of crimes is then wiped away. It's a new beginning.
According to Kadoya owner Gregory Howell, Sex on the Outside explores gender identification through visual art, and also through new installations in both the Main and Lower galleries. The primary imagery focuses on the Happy Widow Festival itself, showing how gender reversal can be accepted on a cultural level, and has been through history. But there's iconography in the show, too: high-heeled shoes beneath a voting-booth curtain, for instance, with DNA strands comprised of shoes inside the booth, representing the feminine in all of us.
The result is an installation that is new both to the gallery — which is producing its first-ever catalog for the show — and to Lincoln. The artist normally works in paint, and she has a strong background in portraiture, but here she's trying media like spray paint and newspaper, and making location-specific art.
Lincoln says her favorite of the latter is "Rincon de los Abuelitos" ("Grandparents' Corner"), an area holding a quilted cape with pictures of the Green Lantern and Batman sewn into the lining.
"When a woman is pregnant, people always want to know the sex of the baby; grandparents don't care," Lincoln explains. "They don't care about gender. They never do. Grandparents always understand. Parents have to tell kids they're not superheroes eventually. Grandparents? You're a superhero. You are.
"Sexuality," she continues, "is a lot less important to grandparents. They don't need to judge, they just love."