The term “butch” is often used to label women within queer communities, but when it comes to “femme,” there is a lack of awareness about who identifies as such. Vancouver-based artist and Capilano University teacher Toni Latour’s latest exhibit, The Femme Project, hopes to change that.
The exhibit, currently at the Firehall Art Centre as well as Capilano University’s Studio Art Gallery, is made up of portrait-style photography and audio-recorded interviews, with the aim to increase the visibility and representation of self-identified queer femmes in Vancouver. Latour says the project is “meant to capture their ideas, experiences, politics and voices and offer them to viewers.”
Latour’s combination of visuals and audio clips truly brings this underrepresented community to life; it was almost like a large scale yearbook for femmes. For each individual, a brightly lit close-up face shot and full body shot was provided.
The women in the photos vary in race, ethnicity, age and style; some of them are dressed in a colourful and eccentric way, with tattoos and bold prints, while others are dressed conservatively. However, all upheld what most would generally consider to be a traditional feminine appearance.
The invisibility amongst this community seems to stem from this femininity, as femmes identify as queer but maintain an image that some, from both within the queer community and from outside, may mistake as heterosexual, challenging stereotypes of identity and sexuality.
In the recorded interviews, a majority of the women seem to express feelings of not only dismissal — as people would often question their sexual preferences based on their outward appearance — but even discrimination, especially, and surprisingly, from within the queer community itself.
The project is “meant to capture their ideas, experiences, politics and voices and offer them to viewers.”
Toni Latour, artist
Latour says that increasing the visibility and amount of space for femmes to share their experiences has the potential to create a positive and long-term change in Vancouver’s queer communities.
The gallery is made up of 70 photographs, 64 of which can be seen on Latour’s website. Her efforts to make her work so readily available and accessible to the public, rather than confined to one space, shows her involvement and dedication in helping to build a visible community for queer femmes.
I had a chance to briefly speak with the Firehall Arts Centre box office manager, who emphasized the importance of an open door concept in galleries and the need to support all types of communities within Vancouver through art.
“Things that are familiar are no longer scary, no longer a threat,” says Latour. “When I showed the work at Capilano University, the audiences were primarily from outside the queer community and many thanked me for introducing them and educating them on a subculture that they didn’t know existed — that was very exciting and worthwhile.”
She says that the femme community has already responded positively, giving the project lots of press and attendance with a “sincere thanks from many for increasing visibility.” Latour is also working on The
Family Project and The Drag King Project, both with a very similar style of visual execution and goal of empowering and identifying these unique and diverse communities.