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Li Turner's In Search of Identity on view at Gallery 110

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Lavender Fields Forever, Li Turner, watercolor & gouache, 11 x 15 inches — Image courtesy of the artist
Lavender Fields Forever, Li Turner, watercolor & gouache, 11 x 15 inches — Image courtesy of the artist

Few art forms can capture energy and fluidity in the way that watercolor painting does. It brings dissolution to binaries. Watercolor works often evoke something in the viewer that is intimate to them alone.

Artist Li Turner seeks to use the way this medium provokes introspection to spark a conversation around identity, particularly gender identity.

Starting on September 7 and running through the end of this month, In Search of Identity, a collection of her works, seeks to "raise social and political awareness about the 'gender question,'" according to Turner. She has been making art for more than 50 years and has a longtime working relationship with Gallery 110, where the show will take place.

"That's why I work with Gallery 110 — they let me do what I want...they do allow experimentation," Turner said in an interview with the SGN.

In our conversation, she revealed that recently she has begun an exploration of gender in her personal life, which influenced the work heavily. As labels have begun to change in the last decade, due to an increased awareness and acceptance of divergent identities, Turner found herself fearful of not knowing how to properly identify. This caused her to make the pieces that would become In Search of Identity, in order to put into the universe what words could not.

Turner mentioned how her environmentalism is showcased in her art. She spoke of the vast cosmos and nature displayed in some of the pieces, and how they represent the infinite possibilities of gender expression.

"I'm an old hippie chick...I've marched in a lot of marches, still do," she said.

A look at two pieces
In the piece Lavender Fields Forever, we see three people sharing a bench. Their gender expressions all differ from one another, yet they are unified by the purple coloring of their outfits. Other objects surrounding the group are purple too, contrasting with the whites and grays that appear in the rest of the frame. This, to me, signifies the unification of these three in their queerness, and stands as an acknowledgement that the world reflects all people in it.

She/HerTransition, Li Turner, watercolor & gouache, 11 x 15 inches — Image courtesy of the artist  

She/Her Transition is another piece I had the pleasure of seeing. It showcases a person's transition from feminine presenting to masculine presenting. This is done softly though, as the image of the person remains stagnant in all three positions, with only fine details changing in each successive image. This piece, to me, shows the humanity of the Trans experience, as we can see the different, equally valid stages of identity. It also evokes questioning of gender binaries and expression, as we see the truly fine line between what we perceive as feminine and masculine.

Show, don't tell
It is the ultimate goal of the collection, according to Turner, is to "explore identities that stray from the more stringent biological definition." She shared how it is her hope for people to begin that self-exploration after having seen the pieces.

In addition, she hopes to represent some of the forms gender identities can take, but acknowledges that there are too many to accurately capture. "There's so many ways people can be unique and different; there's no way I could paint them all...but I hope to show that it's endless," Turner reflected.

Showcasing the spectrum on which gender identities can exist often can become exhausting using just words, subject to constant unintentional and intentional misunderstanding. It can also be overwhelming trying to express it ourselves verbally, too. This is the reason the In Search of Identity gallery is so important: it is able, through art, to communicate the lived realities of people all across the gender spectrum.

In Search of Identity will be showing all of September at Gallery 110 at 110 Third Ave. S. in Pioneer Square.