It's been 50 years since the start of the Gay Liberation movement in New Zealand (1972). To celebrate, FABRIC has invited local artist and activist Shannon Novak take over the newly formed FABRIC Project Space.
"Through the Looking Glass" is our first installation for FABRIC’s new Project Space but is a part of the ongoing series for Shannon called 'Make Visible'.
His works are multifaceted but at their core joyful. Post our recent conversation with Shannon, FABRIC Director Jacki Brescic, noted, "When you experience joy [like Shannon’s art], it can instantly bring you closer to your true self." We invite you to read on and find out why this sentiment is so true of Shannon's works and message.
Or, simply take a stroll past the installation and try not to smile. That's what it's all about.
Q: Welcome, we are so excited to be showcasing your art at FABRIC. For those who don’t know about you, could you share a little bit about yourself and why this collaboration is important to you?
Shannon: Thank you for the opportunity! It’s an honour to be working with you. I am an artist, activist, and curator based in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa, with a focus on helping to grow a better world for the LGBTQI+ community worldwide. I grew up in Taranaki in a small rural village, leaving for Tāmaki Makaurau at the age of 18. Since then I have been in and out of different jobs in different sectors, moving to full time artist 5 or so years ago. This collaboration, along with all the work I do, is important to me as I see it as an opportunity to help reduce the disproportionate rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide for the LGBTQI+ community. By making visible the LGBTQI+ community and its challenges and triumphs, we have a better chance of growing public support for this community.
Q: Can you explain what it’s like to transition between the roles of activist, artist and curator?
Shannon: I don’t feel a transition between roles, rather, they all merge into one - and build off each other. The work I do as an activist informs the work I do as an artist and vice versa. The work I do as a curator informs the work I do as an activist, and vice versa, and so on. I would say though, that being an artist feels like the primary role through which all else speaks.
Q: “Through the Looking Glass”, is a part of your wider series, Make Visible, can you tell us about this ongoing project?
Shannon: This project aims to grow support for the LGBTQI+ community worldwide by making visible challenges and triumphs for this community. It’s a project that began as part of my participation in the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT10) in 2021 at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The project launched in September 2021 through a series of interventions inside the gallery and outside the gallery (satellite spaces), making visible key challenges and triumphs the local (Queensland) LGBTQI+ communities face.
Q: Your work is so recognisable and striking. It brings so much joy! We would love to know where and how you seek inspiration?
Shannon: I always begin with the land and work from there. So in the case of the work at FABRIC, it was about the land the store is on, that land as originally Māori land, then the relationships with that land at LGBTQI+ people past, present, and future - through mental, physical, and spiritual dimensions. The way I interpret ideas, themes, matter, is via the lens of synesthesia, or the mixing of senses. In my case I often hear colour and see sound, so for example, the bright colours and shapes used in the FABRIC work are a reflection of how I experience that particular space/site through synesthesia.
Shannon wears Patchwork Liner Type Jacket in Khaki by Sage de Cret, Forever Shirt B125 in Stripe 105 by Comme des Garçons SHIRT, Relaxed Fit Trouser in Navy by Sunspel and Ballstar Sneaker in White Beige Leo by Golden Goose.
Q: Now Fashion! Tell us about your personal style? Do you have a few favourite FABRIC brands?
Shannon: In the late 90’s, early 2000’s I was always trying new things with fashion - often making my own clothes because the clothes that were available were not quite what I wanted. I remember walking down Queen Street in Tāmaki Makaurau one day and a couple laughing at me saying “It’s 2000” in reference to my pseudo retro getup. I had a fascination with mixing eras, fabrics, so-called masculine/feminine threads. Never dull, always bright, always brave. Now my focus is on the community, so I don’t have the same time for/focus on fashion as I once had, but always jump at the opportunity to try new things, experiment, play. I have a particular fondness for Comme des Garçons given its founder Rei Kawakubo in regards to her work challenging supposed gender norms. I also relate to Kawakubo having multiple roles in her practice, yet stating they are all interlinked/inform each other.
Q: What is your most iconic fashion moment? Photos welcome!
Shannon: Modelling for DJ Station (no longer active) on Karangahape Road, Tāmaki Makaurau, in the late 90’s. It was all about the experimentation with metallics, glittery fabrics, that whole impending early 2000’s club scene. There was also an element of being unapologetically visible and different, standing out from the crowd, not being afraid to challenge heteronormativity.
Shannon wears B015 Shirt in Blue by Comme des Garçons Homme, T016 Sweatshirt in Grey by Comme des Garçons Homme, Chino Pants in Beige by Golden Goose and Chuck Taylor Low in Blue by Comme des Garçons PLAY x Converse.
Q: What is the best (or worst) advice you’ve ever been given?
Shannon: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is “simple life is happy life”, and it really rings true for me as I’ve slowly decluttered the noise in my life over time, and focused on that which generates positive energies.
Q: Now the floor is yours… tell us anything you want our readers to know, or perhaps something no one knows about you?
Shannon: I pass the floor to your readers, particularly those who are struggling with their identity/identities as part of the LGBTQI+ community. If you or someone you know needs LGBTQI+ support, know you are loved, and that help is always nearby. These days there are many options from making a call to a free number to chatting anonymously online with someone. The main thing is you connect and talk about it. I have listed some support options below.
Suicide Crisis Helpline: https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline 0508 828 865
QLife: https://qlife.org.au 1800 184 527
Lifeline Australia: https://www.lifeline.org.au call 13 11 14