New Brooklyn Museum Exhibit Explores the Cultural Memory of Stonewall

Artists born after the galvanizing moment in gay rights history, which took place 50 years ago, present their interpretations

S.T.A.R.
S.T.A.R. (2012) by Tuesday Smillie. Watercolor collage on board. Courtesy of the artist © Tuesday Smillie

It began as just another Friday night at the Stonewall Inn, a popular New York gay bar. The raid by the NYPD Public Morals Squad in the early hours of June 28, 1969, would have been routine, too—except this time, tired of harassment, the bar’s patrons fought back. The unplanned uprising launched the gay rights movement, but 50 years later, “Stonewall is one of those events that’s both remembered and misremembered,” says Carmen Hermo, co-curator of “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow” at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition looks at Stonewall’s legacy through the work of LGBTQ artists born after 1969. From reverent tributes to that night’s forgotten trans heroines to posters parodying the prejudice that sexual and gender minorities still face, these artists pick at the threads of an unfinished historical narrative. “It’s a moment of celebration, but also of reflection,” says Felipe Baeza, whose mixed-media image (below) honors queer love in times of struggle. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

Protest Sign II (2017) by Elektra KB. Textile, felt and thread. Courtesy of the artist © Elektra KB
runlittlewhitegirl (2016-17) by David Antonio Cruz. Oil and enamel on birch panel. Courtesy of the artist. © David Antonio Cruz. Photo: Anthony Alvarez
Artist Felipe Baeza uses everything from paint to twine and glitter to create memorable images of “invisible bodies,” the people often overlooked by history. Felipe Baeza

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This article is a selection from the June issue of Smithsonian magazine