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This art exhibit in Fort Lauderdale honors the joy and power of Black, LGBTQ friendship

 Beau McCall, a New York City-based artist, opened a new exhibition “Rewind: History on Repeat” at the Stonewall National Museum, Archives, and Library in Fort Lauderdale. GREG FREDERICK

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/visual-arts/article276198386.html#storylink=cpy
Greg Frederick
Beau McCall, a New York City-based artist, opened a new exhibition “Rewind: History on Repeat” at the Stonewall National Museum, Archives, and Library in Fort Lauderdale.

They were punk rock. They dressed in drag. They wrote songs about sex work and violence toward the LGBTQ community. And they only ever performed once. They were the Strange Beauties, a group of friends having fun.

It was the ‘80s in Philadelphia and the height of disco. But Beau McCall and his friends Antoine and Tracy wanted to try something different. People looked at them like they were crazy, McCall said, but they didn’t care.

“We didn’t look like pageant queens,” he said. “We looked like rock stars.”

Antoine and Tracy passed away, but their time as Strange Beauties is immortalized forever. This Pride Month, McCall pays homage to his friends and their stories at a new art exhibition at the Stonewall National Museum & Archives in Fort Lauderdale.

“Rewind: History on Repeat” features 10 artworks that memorialize 10 friends who have died through collages of photographs, buttons and ephemera. The pieces on display are pulled from McCall’s art book “REWIND: MEMORIES ON REPEAT‘‘ along with archived magazines, posters and newspapers that captured Black, LGBTQ life in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The show is on view until Sept. 8.

McCall, a New York-based artist known for his use of buttons in his work, made the collages from an old bag of photographs he kept underneath his bed. Antoine would poke fun at McCall for bringing his disposable camera everywhere, calling him “picture crazy.”

Strange Beauties XIII: Antoine aka DeeDee Some more, Tracy Monroe, and Beau McCall, 2020 is one of the pieces in Beau McCall’s Rewind: History on Repeat pays homage to her story and and life on Thursday, June 8, 2023. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com
Carl Juste
/
The Miami Herald
Strange Beauties XIII: Antoine aka DeeDee Some more, Tracy Monroe, and Beau McCall, 2020 is one of the pieces in Beau McCall’s Rewind: History on Repeat pays homage to her story and and life on Thursday, June 8, 2023.

“I was just taking pictures because we were having fun. All those pictures paid off,” McCall said. “If it wasn’t for me being picture crazy this exhibition wouldn’t exist.”

McCall’s show is the first of several exhibitions that will be dedicated to minority groups within the LGBTQ community this year, said Robert Kesten, the museum’s director. The museum also recently announced a partnership with the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale to work on programming that engages the LGBTQ community.

“When marginalized people are left out of the picture, we’re not getting a full picture of what has really gone on in the world before, nor what’s going on in the world going forward,” Kesten said. “That is why we continuously find ourselves facing the same problems. We’re not finding solutions because we’re not including people in the conversation.”

READ MORE: Can kids see ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’? How DeSantis’ anti-drag war is affecting the performing arts

The exhibit opened during the first week of LGBTQ Pride Month, which commemorates the 1969 protests and riots at The Stonewall Inn in New York City. Decades later, Kesten said, LGBTQ Floridians face harmful rhetoric and discrimination, especially in the last year after the expansion of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” education law and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ targeting of drag shows.

“[The exhibition] shows that we’re more alike than we are different, for people who are exhibiting hate and prejudice,” he added. “But what it also shows, and I think it might be even more important, is that if you’re in the Black community or the LGBTQ+ community, we are resilient. We have gone through all of these things together, and we have overcome.”

McCall’s art reflects what life was like for Black LGBTQ community members in the years after the Stonewall riots and during the AIDS epidemic. Despite the hardship, “we just relied on each other for friendship,” he said.

Originally from Philadelphia, McCall came of age in a relatively small gay scene, he said. McCall spent his time going out with friends at the handful of gay friendly bars and clubs, dancing to Donna Summers and Diana Ross. But as AIDS spread through the community, his life in his hometown changed. Several clubs closed. Several people got sick and died.

In 1986, he left to New York City, where he still lives today, to start a new chapter and study fashion. But every time he called back home, he received terrible news. Friends died of AIDS and other illnesses. One friend, a Black transgender woman named Bianca, was murdered. The loss of his friends weighed heavily on McCall, and he stopped creating artwork for 10 years.

“Moi Renee V” by artist Beau McCall uses an old club poster to homage to his friend. Moi Renee was a stylish musical artist and drag performer who’s song “Miss Honey” was sampled on Beyonce’s “Renaissance” album.
Amanda Rosa
/
The Miami Herald
“Moi Renee V” by artist Beau McCall uses an old club poster to homage to his friend. Moi Renee was a stylish musical artist and drag performer who’s song “Miss Honey” was sampled on Beyonce’s “Renaissance” album.

In 2011, his life partner Souleo saw his old pieces and encouraged him to start creating again. “He rejuvenated my creative energy,” McCall said.

Next to each artwork at the exhibition are short stories about the people featured in the collages. One of those friends is Moi Renee, a musical artist and drag performer whose dance single “Miss Honey” was sampled on “PURE/HONEY” from Beyonce’s “Renaissance” album. McCall stayed at Renee’s apartment when he first moved to New York City.

In one of the collages, an old poster for the LGBTQ club Midtown 43 advertises Renee’s show and a free buffet. In another collage, Renee’s face appears on the cover of a local newspaper for a story about violence toward gay, Black people.

Another collage is dedicated to Bianca. She appears smiling and wrapped in yellow buttons to represent joy. Next to her collage, another piece made with obituary clippings spells out the names of McCall’s deceased friends: Trey, Charles, Joey, Antoine, Moi Renee, Sifudoin.

McCall said everyone, especially young people, should see the exhibition and reflect on the value of friendship. Being able to share this exhibition is a blessing, he said.

He recalled the times his friend Trey would visit from Philadelphia and hang out at McCall’s place, drinking, smoking and talking for hours about old times. One conversation always came up. Who would be the last person sitting at the table, telling their stories? That person is McCall.

“I feel very blessed at the moment that I am living to tell my stories,” McCall said. “Hopefully that will inspire some young person to preserve their memories for the next generation.”

Rewind: History on Repeat

Where: Stonewall National Museum & Archives; 1300 East Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale

When: On view until September 8.

Info: https://stonewall-museum.org/exhibitions/

This story was produced with financial support from The Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The Miami Herald maintains full editorial control of this work.

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