Queer photographer talks creative process, debut at William Way

Photographer and artist Briana Shewan

William Way LGBT Community Center is presenting “Second Nature,” the first solo exhibition by artist Briana Shewan. The artwork explores the artist’s methodical process of deconstruction and reconstruction, creating works composed of “scales” made from strips of her film photography. PGN talked to Shewan about her creative process and how it relates to the community gallery that is hosting her exhibition.

What is the significance of the title, “Second Nature?”

It’s a play on the phrase. The idea is that this art is second nature to me. It’s a visual extension of my self-expression and my inner self. It’s also a play on that the work itself is inspired by nature, which is my primary inspiration. Additionally is the other layer in terms of the second — this art is photographic collages made from repurposing my original film photography into new work.

Did you have collage in mind when you were taking these pictures, or is the resulting artwork unrelated to the inspiration for the original photos?

I did film photography for the better part of a decade in my 20s and up and stopped doing photography in 2015 when all of my equipment broke, and my housing wasn’t stable. It wasn’t practical enough to continue. So it wasn’t until four years later that I decided to revisit the photography and see what I could do to use it and make something different out of it. I had a box of prints that were in my closet, and I just took it out and started going through it, thinking what kind of collages I could make with the imagery itself. Then I got this idea in my head about working with the color from them, and that’s when I had this vision of the first collage I made with this style. I was able to execute it from cutting out the color from the prints that I had in a way that was really close to what I imagined in my mind, which was exciting. After the fact, I realized I made an abstract landscape, and there was nature coming through that. 

What makes the William Way Center the ideal space to present these works?

It’s a queer gallery and a queer community space. I like to be really explicit about being a queer artist. It means a lot to me to have my first solo show at a queer gallery and to have it rooted in the queer community. I’m excited for the opening as a chance to bring community together in a shared physical space because of my art.

Are these works intended for an LGBTQ audience?

I think there’s a more universal message to it. My experience as a bisexual femme, my lived queer experience involves a lot of femme invisibility and bi-erasure. The work being abstract, there is a lot that is represented that is queer in the work without being explicitly queer. My lived experience as a queer person is having to read past a lot of initial barriers and stereotypes and the heteronormativity that gets put on me. My work and art is an extension of that experience. I like being a queer artist and being at the William Way because people need to look at it in a queer context and ask themselves about the work not being as explicitly queer itself. I really look at this work as a culmination of my formative years, when I moved to San Francisco, came out and fell in love. [This] new, original work I started in 2019 represents who I am today. I started Mophead Femme in 2017 as a therapist, artist and writer, and these past few years have been huge in terms of me more fully coming into myself, including coming into my femme identity. So this work is a reflection of the boldness and joy of this time of my life, while being made up of the past that’s made me who I am now.

“Second Nature” is on view through Feb. 28 at The William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St. For more information on Briana Shewan, visit www.mopheadfemme.com.

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