A new pop-up banner installation placed on buildings around Fayetteville and nearby cities was created to address concerns about new legislation making its way through the Arkansas general assembly this year.
The banners, created by a community artist and a student in the University of Arkansas’ art program, popped up last week at businesses along College Avenue, and on the exterior of the university’s new Windgate School of Art and Design building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. This week, the banners were unveiled at businesses at 8th Street Market in Bentonville.
The installation was created in direct response to Arkansas Senate Bill 43, which seeks to classify drag performances as “adult oriented businesses” in Arkansas for the purpose of restricting those performances in public.
There were four banners created for the installation initially, and more are in the works. The messages include a generalized individual performing an innocuous-seeming task that would be restricted by the new legislation.
The artists who organized the installation requested to remain anonymous for this story due to concerns for their own safety. The artists said they selected the language on the banners specifically to be “free from the over-sexualized, demonized, and weaponized language used against the queer / gender non-conforming community in the definitions currently provided by Arkansas legislatures.”
Drag queen serving you brunch; Trans boy sings Jolene at karaoke; Non-binary butch singing with the church choir; and Gender fluid couple reciting poetry in the park; are the messages included on the first four banners.
“We were thinking about what could depictions of queer joy look like?” one of the artists told us. “And not using over stigmatized or sexualized language like what is being used in the bill. We were looking for a formula of, ‘This person doing this activity in this type of public way, and how these activities could become illegal.'”
“This is radical tenderness,” one of the artists wrote in an artist statement about the banners.
The banners were created using hand-stitched scraps of mended clothing and left-over materials from previous creative projects, the artists said, in order to include pieces of themselves in the works, but to “remain separate from the discrimination that aims to dissolve us.”
Around 15 to 20 local artists and other collaborators from the community came together to help assemble the banners.
The plan, one of the artists told us, is to move the banners around the region periodically, letting them pop up at various businesses and other public places. The locations won’t be announced, and the artists plan to let the businesses decide themselves how they want to mention them.
Again, safety is a concern. The artists working on the project have already been cursed at by passers by and threatened both online and in person while installing the banners, one person told us.
Still, they said, the positive feedback they have already received gives them hope that the installation is making a positive impact.
“We heard from queer individuals who said they were feeling scared earlier in the day, but saw these banners and said they were feeling better seeing the gentleness of their daily lives being depicted in these statements.” they said.
Arkansas Senate Bill 43, sponsored by Senator Gary Stubblefield (R) and Representative Mary Bentley (R), was introduced earlier this month. The bill would classify businesses hosting drag performances as adult oriented businesses alongside adult arcades, adult bookstores or video stores, and adult cabarets. The measure was endorsed by the Senate on Wednesday, and is on the agenda for discussion before the House today (Feb. 2.)