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Honors Course Highlight: A Queer Lens with Professor Mahaffy

| Rosa Gomez

In a new course for the Honors Program, "A Queer Lens: Representation in Art, Photography, and Film," Blugolds find space to express themselves and to explore Queer identity through art. The course was designed for honors students by Professor Ellen Mahaffy from the Communication and Journalism Department at UW-Eau Claire.

Professor Mahaffy’s course creates a welcoming space for students to learn about Queer art and to reflect on their own unique experiences and identities by creating art themselves, regardless of whether they have a background in studying or making art.

In this course, students question how certain identities are portrayed in art and challenge how they consume this portrayal. It is “opening the door to thinking about what Queer art is and who gets to create and what kind of voice they want to put out there,” Mahaffy said. 

Prof Mahaffy and class at art exhibit

Mahaffy emphasized that in many senses, being Queer means not only challenging the perception that other people have about you but also the optics that you hold for yourself. Having a space to create art based on their own experience pushes students to insert themselves into the world on their own terms–and to figure out how they want to share their story.  “To be Queer is to change things up,” Mahaffy said. 

In one of their assignments, students select a Queer artist to research; they then curate a selection of the artist’s work to share with the class and offer an account of why these works are significant as Queer art. Students have a space to study how Queer art evolves with the artist and examine the real-world implications of their work. They can look at whose work has been showcased and why—all part of the process of becoming the author and artist of their own stories.  

Later in the semester, students had the opportunity to “get messy” by creating their own art. After engaging with Halberstam’s theory of “queer monstrosity," they shaped their own monsters out of clay. Students displayed their works in McIntyre Library throughout December 2022, and hosted an opening “artist’s talk” for the campus community. These students will go on to exhibit their art in a special session at the National Council on Undergraduate Research conference, hosted by UW Eau Claire in April 2023.

Mahaffy, an acclaimed photographer, recently won “Best of Show” for her piece “Worn by My Father,” at the Pablo Center’s Confluence of Art exhibition in fall 2022.

"A Queer Lens" will be next offered by the Honors Program in fall 2023.