Stories Questioning Queerness: An Interview with Adil Mansoor
Adil Mansoor is certainly no stranger to The Andy Warhol Museum. As an artist educator, he facilitates a number of exciting museum programs, including studio activities at the Factory and an arts-based youth dialogue program called Dine and Discuss. I was thrilled to interview him for the “Questioning Queerness” blog series, as Caldwell Linker’s All Through the Night exhibition was extremely important to him, both as a photo subject/friend of Caldwell’s and as a dedicated contributor to the museum. Check out our conversation about the importance of Caldwell’s exhibit and activism within the Pittsburgh queer community!
What are your impressions of Caldwell’s exhibition, and how do you think the photos reflect the queer community in Pittsburgh?
I’ve been super jazzed about Caldwell’s exhibit. Seeing people that you know in your own community up on the walls in a museum is really exciting. And it’s at a museum I work at and care about deeply. It has been really amazing to get to engage people who are going through the museum in conversations about photos that I have a personal connection with.
One of my favorite things about the exhibit, other than specific images, is the way it’s laid out. I think both Caldwell and the curators did this beautiful job of presenting those images, as it reads like Facebook. The way I consume those images on a normal day is through Facebook, by seeing what Caldwell puts up after a queer event. To see them in almost that same mode in a museum is really cool, and it feels like you’re reading a Facebook wall!
What are your thoughts on Caldwell’s increasingly universal presence at a variety of events in Pittsburgh?
Getting to see their images all over the place has been really refreshing. If there’s anyone in the world that is going to try to capture a community in Pittsburgh, especially a community I’m a part of, I would definitely want it to be Caldwell. Knowing that it’s Caldwell approaching all of these different spaces and events makes me feel both safe and excited. Another way of thinking about it, for me, is that it’s not really a queer event yet if Caldwell isn’t there – but Caldwell always shows up!
Since you moved to Pittsburgh three years ago, how have you seen the queer community change over the years?
Something I’ve seen change over the years is that I’ve had greater access to a more diverse community within the queer community – more people of color, more people coming from different parts of the country, more people coming from different industries. So, it’s not just artists – it’s also people working in the service industry, doctors, teachers, etc. I also feel like there has definitely been more mainstream media attention on the Pittsburgh queer scene, especially because of Sharon Needles and Alaska. They’ve launched us into this public sphere that we were kind of floating on in a lot of ways. There are people that now think of Pittsburgh when they think of queer, which is cool!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Pittsburgh queer scene, and how do you hope to reverse or correct this notion?
I think a lot of people who have never been here might assume that we’re like Queer as Folk, which was a TV show filmed in Canada but fictionally set in Pittsburgh. I mean, there’s a similarity in that there is a place called Liberty Ave. in Pittsburgh, but it is not like the one in the show. There’s not this huge community that is bustling through these big dance clubs with cute boys everywhere. That is not the experience I’ve had here, and I’m thankful for that! But I think that show put out a really specific image that’s not accurate.
The way we start addressing this is that the people of Pittsburgh need to start realizing that image is out there. I didn’t even know that show was about Pittsburgh until I learned about it from teenagers. And we also need to make sure that we are promoting people like Caldwell. Caldwell’s images portray an aspect of the Pittsburgh community that is very real and genuine; everything in the photos actually happens! And the more that these images flood our media outlets, the more real and authentic I think our presentation is to the rest of the country. And I’m really excited and relieved that Caldwell’s work is at the Warhol, because this museum garners national and international attention, as it should. And to have someone representing our community that intelligently is awesome!
Adil is the performance programs director for Dreams of Hope, an LGBTQA youth arts organization in Pittsburgh. DOH is currently recruiting people for the performance group. For more information, please visit www.dreamsofhope.com.
You can also learn more about Adil’s own arts practice through Hatch Arts Collective, a new performance-based arts organization in Pittsburgh, at www.facebook.com/hatcharts.